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Replica Raises $11M and Spins Out of Sidewalk Labs

The new software company will remain a partner of Sidewalk Labs, using de-identified mobility data to build predictive models for where and why people get around in cities in an effort to better inform land use.

For all the data that cities and businesses are collecting from citizens moving through their streets, it often struggles to clarify the relationship between transportation and land use.

A new company called Replica, spun out of an $11 million seed funding round and two years of research and development at Sidewalk Labs, aims to change this. The company announced its formation and the close of its Series A last week, led by Innovation Endeavors, Firebrand Ventures and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.

Replica was called Model Lab when it launched in 2017, with the goal of using modeling to address urban problems at scale. According to a blog post by Replica CEO Nick Bowden, Model Lab staff were meeting with public agencies around the world to learn about how they used data to understand their jurisdictions. It was a broad query, but one thing they found was that governments didn’t have a clear understanding of citizen movement patterns, and therefore struggled with urban planning around transportation and land use.

If cities could better predict how, when and why people get from place to place, they would know more about where to add bike lanes, change speed limits, build new roads or otherwise make changes to accommodate traffic. They could also anticipate related impacts of proposed developments. 

Replica is the software tool, and now the company, that Model Lab built to help public agencies answer those questions and plan for the future. In his blog, Bowden stressed that Replica only uses de-identified mobile location data, so it’s not tracking the movements of any single identified person, then uses that data in aggregate to model the overall movement of a particular place. Replica then combines those movement models with a hypothetical or “synthetic” population, using census demographic data to represent the whole, resulting in a map of replicate trip patterns that don’t violate anyone’s privacy but contain useful information for public agencies.

Bowden wrote that Replica will launch in several new regions over the next few months, using the $11 million in seed funding to partner with more agencies and accelerate the product’s rollout.

Replica is officially on its own but will remain a partner of Sidewalk Labs, which has several projects, such as the CommonSpace app it announced in March, that commodify data on the use of public spaces.