It’s A Good Thing That Motionloft’s Sensors Are Spying On You

The company is trying to offer a complete picture of the foot, car, and bicycle traffic in our cities. You’re being tracked, but it will make life better (and don’t worry, no one knows it’s you).

It’s A Good Thing That Motionloft’s Sensors Are Spying On You
Valeriy Lebedev/Shutterstock

Motionloft, a San Francisco-based startup backed by Mark Cuban, wants to track your every move, whether you’re on foot or in a car. Don’t panic: The startup’s sensors, which are in the process of being installed around San Francisco, track anonymous data–and it will all be used for good, if Motionloft can help it.


I recently took a trip to Motionloft headquarters, where I looked up close at the company’s product. The five-inch-by-five-inch nondescript sensors need only to be attached to a window with a view of the street to unobtrusively start counting all the people and cars outside. All of the information is funneled into the cloud, where it ends up in Motionloft’s online dashboard. The startup already has sensors placed throughout San Francisco (and is in the process of installing more), so it has a relatively complete picture of traffic in the city.

“There are no other sensors that can do anything like this,” says Motionloft CEO Jon Mills. “The sensors use only 11 watts of power and they send data in real time.”

There is an infinite number of uses for Motionloft’s data, but the startup is beginning with real estate developers and businesses. A coffee shop could use this kind of information to choose a location that has lots of mid-day traffic. A restaurant could use it to decide whether to focus on breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

That’s what happened with Showdogs, a restaurant in San Francisco’s Central Market neighborhood that recently started using Motionloft’s sensors. Take a mid-day jaunt in the area and you’ll be hard-pressed not to notice the crowds. But visit that same neighborhood around 9 p.m. and it’s a virtual dead zone. This is something many local residents know intuitively, but up until now, there has been no definitive way to know exactly how many people and vehicles are passing through at any given time.

The dark green highlights heavily trafficked times of day.

Using Motionloft’s data, Showdogs now knows that the area outside the restaurant is busiest from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. That data has allowed the restaurant, which is located in a somewhat depressed area, to hone in on its lunch business.

“This can help businesses nail the location they should be in. It makes sure that businesses aren’t put out of place,” says Mills. That’s better for everybody: The businesses get more customers and the customers get the kinds of businesses they need in places that make sense.


Motionloft is already working to make its sensors more specific; instead of just sensing cars and people, it will be able to sense bicycles, different vehicle models (i.e. SUV, sedan, etc.) and track the speed that people are walking. Mills says that the startup is also working on ways to mash up weather data with its traffic information, so people can see how weather impacts drivers and pedestrians.

Mills assures me that privacy issues are nonexistent. “We’ve built a solution that doesn’t transmit any video, it doesn’t transmit any pictures back to us. We don’t want to be scary. We want to help people. Anybody can look at this data.”

Motionloft offers an enterprise subscription solution for businesses that can get data down to the address level. And this month, the startup is launching a $149 per month service that allows anyone with an Internet connection to access San Francisco’s data, broken down by neighborhood.

While Motionloft’s bread and butter is real estate, the general public will probably have plenty of other ideas on how to use the data. Someone moving to a new city might use it to decide where they want to live based on traffic density at different times of day, city planners could use it to figure out how to deploy emergency services, or residential landlords could take the opportunity to jack up prices in popular neighborhoods (now with statistics to prove it!).

Motionloft has sensors in 16 neighborhoods already installed in San Francisco. Now it’s moving on to New York City. Says Mills: “We see our information as something that should be on the 11 o’clock news along with the weather.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.