Insights

Here’s how this startup is helping companies understand how people move about their stores and shopping centers

December 10, 2021


Sonya Herrera
Bay Area Inno (Silicon Valley Business Journal)

As you walk through the shopping mall this holiday season, you might feel as though you’re being watched.

You may well be. But possibly not for the reason you think.

Shopping center operators, retailers, office building managers and even manufacturers are using technology from Pathr Inc. to track and analyze how people move in their physical spaces. The operator of a shopping mall, for example, could use the Mountain View company’s service to find out how many people pass by particular storefronts and then use that information to set its rates for those locations.

“It’s really just like how Google sets the ad rates: how many people are going to see that ad? Well, that’s how much you’re going to pay for that ad,” George Shaw, Pathr’s CEO, told the Business Journal in a recent interview. “Mall operators are setting their lease rates the same way: How many people walked by that spot? That’s how much that spot costs now.”

But Pathr’s customers are using its software to help with their operations as well as with helping them set their rates. If a shopping center owner can track how many people walk by a trash can each hour, it can better determine how often it needs to send out a crew to collect the garbage.


  • Company: Pathr Inc.
  • Headquarters: Mountain View
  • CEO: George Shaw
  • Year founded: 2019
  • Employees: 21
  • Website: pathr.ai

Pathr’s service relies on an array of cameras that record people’s movements in particular areas. Video from the cameras is fed into a computer on the customer’s premises. Using Pathr’s software, the computer processes the video, converting individual people within it into anonymous dots. It then plots those dots on a map of the location. Pathr’s service can then track and analyze how those dots move around.

The startup, which raised $4 million in a seed round from National Grid Partners in April, charges customers on a per location, per month basis.

Pathr’s customers largely want to keep quiet about using its service

Pathr’s first customer was Mike’s Bikes, a Bay Area chain of bicycle stores. The partnership stemmed from Shaw’s friendship with Mike Gabrys, then a part-owner of the retailer.

Shaw declined to name Pathr’s other customers.

“A lot of our customers don’t want to talk about what it is that we’re doing,” Shaw said. “They see this as an innovation that’s going to be a strategic advantage for them, and so they don’t want to be as public about the fact that they’re this far ahead of the curve.”

The idea that cameras are tracking their every move may give some people the creeps. But Pathr built its service with privacy in mind, Shaw said. The raw video never leaves customers’ computers and doesn’t get stored by Pathr, he said. And the dots aren’t connected with any personally identifiable information, he said.

Shaw founded Pathr in 2019 after more than a decade of working in the area of spatial data analysis. Starting in 2008, he worked on MIT Media Lab’s Human Speechome Project, which studied how location influenced the words that children learn to speak.

He later worked in the research-and-development department of AltSchool, a Mark Zuckerberg-backed organization that operated a group of private schools around the country. Part of Shaw’s job was to study how students’ learning was affected by where they were in their classrooms.

Shaw sees a big opportunity ahead for his startup. Its service can be of use to any company that wants to understand how people move through a particular location.

“We think of it as us having created a new category of technology,” Shaw said. “We didn’t just build a better mousetrap. We didn’t come up with a new app or a snazzy widget. We created a new category of tech that we think is that big of a vision.”

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