Sensors are everywhere — on street lights, traffic signals, buried in electric substations — taking the pulse of a city, measuring its vital statistics. Figuring out what to do with all of that information hasn’t been an easy task.
Emu Analytics was born to help. The London-based company is helping city managers by making that data useful: mapping it to ease congestion, find deteriorating infrastructure, and improve the overall function of a city. At the same, they are making the visualization easy enough that non-technical users can understand it.
Emu was founded in 2015 by a group of ex-telecom folk with backgrounds in mobile data and mapping traffic flows. CEO Richard Vilton was among them, after working at Vodafone research and development where he developed prototypes of systems that visualized traffic flows built from mobile data.
“We found that sometimes it’s a bit difficult to take ideas out of the R&D lab and into the real world,” Vilton told Karma. “So we set up a business to start to create software solutions that could work with some of these new and emerging data sets.”
Emu has landed a handful of U.K. municipal customers in its short existence. Oxfordshire County Council hired it to identify suitable locations for new electric vehicle charging points, and how to prioritize the replacement of streetlights.
For the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham it created a publicly accessible “data explorer.” It permits users to compare sets of data that may be useful to city officials, things like employment, crime and life expectancy. Even library usage.
Its work for London’s transit agency included modeling the impact of road projects to see how each affected the journey time for groups including cyclists, bus users, pedestrians and the disabled.
The digital maps are “more accessible and more consumable” and an improvement over the usual practice of a town hiring a consultant that produces a bulky, hundred page PDF, Vilton said. “Typically, that sort of publishing doesn’t get a lot of engagement,” he said.
The company has even helped map the changes in growing areas for U.K. Christmas dinner ingredients and the number of turkeys.
Emu’s rivals include analytics firms Citi Logik, AirSage, and StreetLight. Vilton says he isn’t worried about a tech behemoth — such as Google — stepping into Emu’s territory. Plugging data sources into a map is harder than it looks, he says.
“Pretty much with every organization we work with there’s there’s different processes and different levels of maturity as to how accessible certain bits of data might be,” he says. “There’s never a one size-fits-all approach,” he says.
Emu’s name has nothing to do with the large flightless bird, Vilton said. It was chosen by the admittedly “geeky” founders, who were playing around with the Greek letters Epsion and Mu together, which looked like Emu, he wrote in an email. “We showed several people (non geeky ones) and they all thought we were bonkers, as no-one had any idea what it said, so we just became Emu.”
The company is generating revenue, breaking even, and hasn’t sought outside investment.
“We decided from the outset that we would put our focus into building our products as opposed to fundraising,” says Vilton, explaining that his co-founders are all from technical backgrounds and already had the skills to build the products. “I guess we didn’t require seed funding to hire techies,” he says.
Vilton didn’t rule out ever seeking funding. “Never say never,” he said.