Santa Monica Will Test Surveillance Tools to Monitor Its New Drop-Off Zone

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

Santa Monica Will Test Surveillance Tools to Monitor Its New Drop-Off Zone

The street lamps lining Santa Monica's busy, shop-lined downtown streets will soon display tiny video cameras operated by a local software startup.

The cameras will watch delivery vehicles that stop in a new city-piloted drop-off zone — an experiment designed to cut down traffic and encourage companies to deploy zero emission trucks and ecargo bikes.

But it will also be a test for Automotus, a venture-backed software company that uses the technology to automate parking violations and wants to ink more deals with municipalities across the United States.

"We're a test case," said Ariana Vita, an environmental analyst for the city of Santa Monica. "The goal really is to create a scalable model for the L.A. region."

Automotus will install 20 cameras on street lamps across downtown Santa Monica and Main Street to watch how electric delivery vehicles from Ikea to the yerba mate company Guayaki use the zone to do business.

Its technology aims to tap into a confluence of trends: the rise in delivery vehicles to satisfy growing ecommerce demands, the push for lower carbon emissions and municipalities' need for cash.

The city won't use its data to issue tickets. But planners say they might turn to the company's tech for enforcement down the line and the partnership has already raised security concerns.

Monitoring Curbside Space as Ecommerce Booms

Founded in 2017, Automotus is known for monitoring curbs to provide cities with data they can use to update parking laws and rake in revenue from parking violations. Research conducted by the company found that 50% of violations — think double-parking or blocking driveways — go unenforced. And commercial vehicles are responsible for most of them.

"For nearly 100 years, we have charged drivers of personal cars for parking at the curb," co-founder Prajwal Kotamraju wrote in a December Forbes editorial. "It's time to start charging delivery companies for stopping there too."

At the same time, Automotus claims that automating parking tickets will save commercial companies money. They'll stop raking in millions of dollars in fines, which are all non tax-deductible.

Automotus is one of a few venture-backed startups analyzing curbside video footage. Companies like curbFlow offer a navigation platform for drivers looking for empty curb space. New York City-based Coord helps cities set up tech-powered "Smart Zones" where commercial drivers can use an app to find spots to safely load their vehicles.

But what sets Automotus apart is that it pitches itself as a way to help cities generate money from parking violations. Violations that it could profit from through a "revenue share model," although the company would not disclose how that works.

The startup has already secured a $1.2 million seed round backed by Quake Capital, Techstars Ventures, former NBA All-Star Baron Davis and NuPark co-founder Kevin Uhlenhaker to enter new cities and partner with commercial fleets.

Part of the attraction is the rise in delivery and curbside pickup as the number of Americans ordering groceries and prescriptions has soared. The World Economic Forum projects delivery vehicles in the top 100 cities will grow by 36% by 2030.

CEO and co-founder Jordan Justus thinks his product will make urban cities "more livable and pleasant," by cutting down traffic, lowering pollution and plumping up city budgets with money from traffic violations.

The company says each installed camera can bump up revenue by more than $20,000. In a recent pilot at Loyola Marymount University, traffic created by drivers searching for spots dropped over 20% once the campus updated its parking policies. And money brought in from enforcement soared 500%.

Keeping a Watch on Privacy Concerns

This week, Santa Monica moved forward on plans to install the startup's video cameras across a one-mile-radius downtown to monitor parking spots reserved for delivery companies. The city will use the data to see if this type of zone cordoned off for light-duty electric trucks, ecargo bikes and robots shows promise.

"Looking at curbs and how we make it easy for people to pick up and drop off could make a big difference," said Lilly Shoup, interim executive director of the transportation accelerator Urban Movement Labs. The Lab, backed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's Office and advisor to Santa Monica's project, will collaborate with Automotus on upcoming pilot projects in L.A.

Vito, the city analyst for electric transportation, said participating delivery companies will have access to the reserved parking spots through December 2021—and if all goes well—maybe longer.

But there are concerns about privacy and security.

Santa Monica City Councilmember Phil Brock has suggested that a third party routinely check that Automotus doesn't hold onto material gathered during the project, to "satisfy residents who feel uncomfortable with the increasing amount of data that we all provide."

"I know there are many people who are worried about the increasing intrusion of data," said the Hollywood talent agent this week before approving the company's contract.

Even Jingqin Gao, a proponent of using machine learning to monitor curbs, says officials should be careful that data isn't misused or misinterpreted.

Privacy concerns "really depend on the source of the data and the quality of the images or videos," said Gao, a researcher at NYU's C2SMART Center. She analyzes video footage collected by some 700 video cameras across New York City, installed by the city's department of transportation.

What she means is that low-resolution footage is good enough to monitor traffic or parking patterns. And, it doesn't pick up facial features or license plate numbers, making it a potential solution for those worried about surveillance.

An Automotus spokesperson would not disclose details about the video cameras, but Justus says his company won't collect personally identifiable information for this project because neither payment automation nor parking enforcement are part of its aim. The contract was approved, but remains contingent upon a successful cyber security assessment from the L.A. Information Services Department.

In other cities, Automotus does collect license plate numbers "similar to a toll road with cameras," said Justus. After officials issue parking tickets, the data is wiped.

After the Santa Monica pilot wraps in December, city officials will decide whether to introduce a larger-scale delivery zone. At that point, Vito said, the city may consider using Automotus' tech for enforcement.
🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor

Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo

Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect

MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health

Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP

Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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