The founding of Rear Window

How do you obtain into the traffic in your street? What is the impact on traffic if measures are taken against cut-through traffic and air pollution, or if you want to increase road safety in a neighbourhood, village, or even an entire city? For all of this, traffic counts are essential as a basis for solutions. Telraam focuses on this by actively working with citizens (citizen science) and providing good traffic counts. Telraam provides the research question and technology. Citizens provide the data. In this way, the participants learn about the traffic in their street, and at the same time help policy makers with good traffic counts. With this data, infrastructure, traffic lights and traffic plans can be made more efficient and better.

And Telraam's story continues steadily. After a year of preparatory work, the notary established on 27 January this year Rear Window BV, which will carry on the Telraam idea. We spoke briefly with Kris Vanherle, researcher at TML, co-founder and managing director of the new company.

Hello Kris, many thanks for making time for us. Tell us, how did you come up with the idea for Telraam?
You're welcome! The idea for Telraam grew from two things that came together. On the one hand, I noticed a few years ago that more and more was being done in citizen science. On the other hand, I saw that this also yielded valuable data. At a certain point I noticed how citizens in Antwerp were taking measurements of the air quality themselves, and how the resulting data proved to be adequate and very useful. Then the idea was born: let us involve the citizens in order to make large-scale, cheap, high-quality traffic counts. And that is now finally taking off.

That sounds fantastic! At which point did you think, this is really worth something, we can do useful things with it?
Telraam was initially an experiment. We started developing a prototype in September 2018 with a group of colleagues from TML, Mobiel 21, and Dave our web developer. The delivery and first rollout in Leuven took place in March 2019. We soon noticed that many (private) people were very enthusiastic to participate, and to help us to do traffic counts at more than 100 locations in Leuven. These first experiments also showed that the quality of the measurements was so good that we could use them in traffic engineering studies. From that point on things moved very rapidly.

That's impressive to say the least! What prompted you to found the company Rear Window?
What we do now with Telraam differs in essence quite strongly from the traditional activities and projects that we do at TML. In addition, Telraam brings together different expertises from several companies. Among other things, TML develops the measurement techniques, Mobiel 21 provides citizen participation and first-line support, all of this supplemented with the expertise of our web developer Dave. To streamline this properly, it was necessary to set up a separate company. That's how Rear Window came to life, a joint venture of TML, Mobiel 21, and Dave.

That's interesting to know, but tell us, how did you come up with the name Rear Window?
We initially wanted a different name for the company than the one we already used for the product (Telraam). Otherwise it would have become too complicated to differentiate between the sensor, the platform, and the company. An internal survey did not yield any solution, until at a certain point Dave found the inspiration: it is a "Window", because Telraam is facing outwards. And "Rear" refers to the entire back-end technology that works behind it to process all the measurements. The fact that we are making a nod to one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films is a nice extra.

Exciting! And what do you find most challenging now that you are running this company at full speed?
That is without a doubt the mental change I had to make. While TML and Mobiel 21 tend to focus on research and consulting, Rear Window focuses more on the delivery of a specific product and associated services. This requires a different business organisation, and getting it all set up is the biggest challenge for me. And I'm not even talking about the large body of administration that comes with it. I like simplicity and clarity, but it is often an administrative tangle, where a lot of my time is spent figuring out which rules to follow, which formulations to fill in, etc.

We believe that. Do your previous experiences within and outside TML help with this?
Definitely! Fifteen years of working as a project manager at TML means that you will no longer be thrown off balance when things get complex or very busy. We also have a family holding for which I oversee the angel investments. The fact that I assessed other starters allows me to estimate a good valuation, to draw up a solid financial plan,.and knowing what is important at which time.

Amazing, but we think you are the right person in the right place! How do you see the future?
Rosy! We are realistic dreamers! Telraam (and by extension Rear Window) has already received a boost for its development through various subsidies. We are currently well on the way to a fully self-supporting model, which now employs six people. We are now going to try to perpetuate all of this by ensuring that we have a sustainable model for citizen science (because we find that such projects are at risk of dying out quickly anyway). We will also make our technology more robust and better. In addition, we are also developing a stable revenue model, for Telraam both as a platform and a service with customers.

We find that very fascinating, we wish you every success!
Thank you! And let me mention, we would also like to scale up to all of Europe (as in the WeCount project, for example), and by extension the rest of the world. Everyone should be able to count!
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