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Google to Help Insurers Measure Slip-and-Fall Risks in Buildings

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By Mitch Phillips Reuters Posted July 25, 2021 7:56 pm Smaller font Descrease article font size -A Larger font Increase article font size A+

Google is aiming to help small-business insurers more accurately measure occupancy of buildings where they are on the hook for slip-and-fall accidents and other risks.

The endeavor is part of a partnership between Google Cloud and Menlo Park, Calif.-based BlueZoo Inc. It is the latest publicly announced initiative of the

Alphabet Inc.

GOOG 0.58%

unit as property and casualty insurers explore a wider range of new technologies to better size up risk, hold down policyholders’ costs and speed up claims processes.

Google is pushing to make its cloud-computing unit a leading choice for data and analytical services. The cloud-computing industry is currently facing growing competitive pressure to identify new customers and drive revenue gains for their parent companies.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Under the BlueZoo and Google Cloud partnership, small sensors in buildings listen for Wi-Fi probes spontaneously emitted by mobile phones. The sensors encrypt and compress these probes and forward them to analytics servers in the cloud, the companies said. BlueZoo arranges for the installation, often on ceilings.

The cloud servers analyze the data to generate metrics including the number of visitors and visits, and lengths of stays with 90% accuracy, said Bill Evans, BlueZoo’s chief executive.

Currently, businesses such as restaurants and hotels use more traditional measures to estimate average and maximum occupancy. As a result, occupancy of common spaces such as ballrooms, bars, lounges, restaurants and fitness centers might not be accurate, BlueZoo said.

“While insurers may occasionally send risk engineers to assess a particular building, BlueZoo measures risk continuously, making it possible to more accurately price risk or work with building owners to mitigate risk,” said Henna Karna, managing director of insurance at Google Cloud. She previously was an executive vice president and chief data officer at insurer AXA XL.

Google Cloud has other insurance-industry initiatives. Since 2019, it has worked with car insurer USAA to develop a photo-based estimating program for its automobile policyholders.

Ms. Karna said Google doesn’t intend to be an insurance carrier itself.

Use of artificial intelligence by insurers is spreading across the industry. Home and other property insurers are using aerial photography to zero in on fire risks of individual residences in wildfire-prone communities. In addition, growing numbers of car insurers are in early stages of figuring out how repairs can be instantaneously estimated for wrecked vehicles from photographs uploaded into cellphone apps by policyholders.

Optical sensors still under development will be able to measure with even-greater accuracy things such as lighting usage, foot traffic, areas of congestion and many other risk metrics in buildings, BlueZoo’s Mr. Evans said.

In terms of identity protection, Mr. Evans said “personally identifiable information is never communicated to the cloud.” He said this enables regulatory compliance in all major markets.

Write to Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com

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