In 2016, police departments serving cities with populations over 25,000 had an average of less than two police officers for every 1,000 residents. Departments are often stretched, and police don’t clear more than 80 percent of non-violent burglaries and motor-vehicle theft due to lack of evidence.
That was the problem a team of Atlanta software experts set out to solve with their newest startup, Flock Safety. The company produces hardware and machine learning software that, combined, serves as a camera powerful enough to capture vehicles traveling up to 55 miles per hour from up to 75 feet away.
Langley, along with some of their first employees Paige Todd and and Matt Feury, saw those companies through their scaling phase and acquisition. Now, that team has come together again for a new startup.
“We’re not industry focused. What we tend to focus on is the end user reaction,” says Langley. “If that’s life-changing, perfect. If it’s day-changing, great. For Experience, when I knew we had something was one of the first times we upgraded a fan, he told us that that was the first time in three years he’d seen his son, and the fact that we were able to give them that experience, he said, ‘it’s huge for me’.”
When Langley moved into a new neighborhood in 2017, one of the first few weeks he was there a neighbor experienced a non-violent theft. Langley saw how strapped the police were for evidence — but also how cost-prohibitive most cameras were.
“The government has had this technology for over a decade, but it was way too cost-prohibitive for neighborhoods,” explains Langley. The average government-installed camera on a public road is about $40,000.
Flock’s solution costs $1500 per camera per year. The actual camera costs the customer nothing — they are paying for the software and the monitoring service the startup provides. Installation, on specially-designed solar-powered poles, is also included, as well as maintenance.
Langley calls it “security as a service.”
“Flock is the same thing we found with Experience — at the end of the day, if you meet any of the customers we’ve actually solved a crime for, it’s life-changing,” he says.
When the team began developing the camera, they had no experience with hardware. They first experimented with cameras already on the market, such as Google’s Nest, but found them inadequate for their purposes.
“These cameras have to operate in a range of environments — different weather, poor conditions, at dawn or dusk or night and with fast-moving vehicles,” says Langley. “Our cameras, once you buy and install it in its place, over the course of a few weeks, it adjusts itself to the conditions where it’s placed.”
The team also focused on making it as easy as possible for the customer to find what they’re looking for in the event of a crime incident. To that end, they developed a robust search function where the user can easily sift through through hundreds of hours of footage to find the one vehicle in question.
Let’s say a crime occurs — your prized mountain bike is stolen. The only information you have to go off of is that the crime happened in the afternoon and a neighbor saw an unfamiliar red car parked in front of your house. Once you have a police report, you go to Flock and obtain a link to footage of the 24 hours surrounding the crime.
Flock’s interface allows you to narrow the field down to specific times of day, and then use visual object search for specific vehicles makes and colors. Your hunt shifts from going through hours of footage to “red cars on my street between 2 and 4 p.m”.
“Since our average customer is about 55-years-old, maybe with limited tech-savviness, this Google-like interface lets them go in and really easily search, pull up results, and turn them over to the police,” says Langley.
“The police love this: it makes their job easier, they get to be more successful, and they can help more people.”
Flock is quick to clarify that they have paid close attention to individual privacy, as well. All of their footage is deleted after 30 days and not stored. They also allow residents in the neighborhoods they install in to opt-out and delete their vehicle from any footage.
Langley says that, in surveys, only 4-5 percent of customers even indicated concerns about privacy. None have as of yet taken advantage of the opt-out mechanism.
“They like the concept of it [the opt-out option], but when it comes to safety, people are more concerned about us catching criminals,” says Langley.
The company is spreading quickly, with most of their marketing by word-of-mouth referrals. They are live in 13 states and cater largely to homeowner and civic associations.
Langley says they largely self-funded at the beginning with a small infusion of capital from the Y Combinator accelerator in San Francisco. Though they participated full-time in the program in California, the team is committed to building their office in Atlanta.
They currently employ about 10 and do all the hardware assembly from their office, sourcing the parts from all over and putting out about 50 cameras a month. Langley says they have never operated as a traditional, slower-moving hardware company.
“The perception about hardware is that development is harder to iterate on. We treat hardware like software. We’ve rolled out eight versions of the camera in 12 months,” he says.
And with a few crimes already solved, the team is looking to keep growing. They’re hiring in engineering and sales with the goal to double this year.
Photos provided by Flock Safety