Inside Voxel51: AI video analytics startup founded by U-M professor, student

Ann Arbor-based company headed to TechCrunch Disrupt

By Meredith Bruckner - Community News Producer

CTO Brian Moore and CEO Jason Corso pose for a photo at the Voxel51 offices in Kerrytown Shops. (Courtesy: Voxel51)

ANN ARBOR - What happens when you combine a computer vision expert and a machine learning specialist? Voxel51.

Voxel51 CEO Jason Corso teaches computer vision at the University of Michigan. CTO Brian Moore was his student when he was doing his Ph.D. in machine learning, and after some brainstorming, the two decided to combine their skills and build an AI video analytics platform.

"We're focused on the next frontier, which is video where you can take all the interesting content from all the video feeds in the world and get insights into what's happening in the video," said Moore.

"We like to quote a statistic that there's going to be something like 50 billion cameras in the world by next year, which is amazing. There's video everywhere and there's all kind of interesting information that, today, you can't extract automatically. So, we're solving that problem."

Credit: Meredith Bruckner

'It might save lives'

Currently, Voxel51 uses "urban sensing" to help cities understand infrastructure, people and vehicles. It is working with Baltimore City Police's CitiWatch program to help the department extract important information from 800 cameras across the city.

"They have only five to seven humans watching those cameras," said Corso. "They can't possibly see if someone falls into the inner harbor. That person may drown. In fact, there was a story where a woman did fall into the inner harbor last winter, was holding onto a buoy for more than two hours and the whole thing was caught on camera. No one was looking at it, and she unfortunately drowned."

With so much activity and so few human eyes on city cameras, Voxel51 helps bridge that gap to bring developing, real-time events to the right people.

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"Our tagline is that we want the video analysts to watch the right video at the right time rather than just watching which video they think they should be watching," said Corso. "We will rank those videos for them and have the humans in the loop to verify what's happening and make sure that their eyes are on the right content to get the nearest officer to go and rescue the person from the harbor, or keep a fight from breaking out.

"It might save lives, it might keep people out of jail. There are so many benefits to being in the right p​​lace at the right time."

An employee lounges on bean bags at Voxel51's newly-remodeled space in Kerrytown Shops. (Credit: Meredith Bruckner)

Is this the next Big Brother? Not quite. While the platform points out events in the interest of public safety, it is privacy-preserving. 

"Our analytics do not do anything related to identity," explained Corso. "They only do things related to behavior and aggregate structures such as crowd gathering or someone getting hit by a car."

High growth and TechCruch Disrupt 2019

The company started with a $1.25 million grant from the federal government and incorporated in October 2018, when it raised $2 million in seed funding.

Voxel51 got its start at Ann Arbor SPARK, moved into a small space above Arbor Brewing Company on Washington St. for one year and took up residence in its current space in Kerrytown Shops in January.

The office is a cool, modern space, complete with a ping-pong room -- the result of a recent build-out. At first glance, the space feels empty, but that's because the company plans to expand from 15 to 50 employees within 12 months after its next round of funding.

A living wall inside Voxel51's offices in Kerrytown Shops. (Credit: Meredith Bruckner)

Corso and Moore are headed this week to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Voxel51 was selected as a Top Pick in the AI space and will be featured in a main stage interview -- a coveted experience for startups nationwide.

For more information, visit www.voxel51.com.

This story was sponsored by Ann Arbor SPARK.

About Ann Arbor SPARK
Ann Arbor SPARK, a nonprofit organization, is advancing the region by encouraging and supporting business acceleration, attraction and retention. The organization identifies and meets the needs of business at every stage, from startups to large organizations. Ann Arbor SPARK collaborates with business, academic, government and community investor partners. For more information, call 734-761-9317 or visit www.AnnArborUSA.org.

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