She puts (robot) eyes on the street to keep people safer

Tara Pham’s company, Numina, generates the granular data that cities require to design bike- and pedestrian-friendly roads and neighborhoods. You could say it all got started by accident — two of them, as a matter of fact. We got both stories recently, after Pham, who has a background in civic technology and engineering, landed on the 2020 Grist 50, our annual list of emerging climate and justice leaders.

We make a sensor that mounts to fixed infrastructure, like a light pole or building. It’s camera-based, but we draw a hard line on protecting personal privacy from the beginning. The camera takes a picture of the street multiple times per second, and a computer inside analyzes those images immediately, at the category level. It registers: There’s a pedestrian-shaped blob, or a bicycle-shaped blob, and then the image is discarded.