Date: January 3, 2017 12:27 pm
As a young kid, I still remember wondering when The Jetsons’ futuristic world would become reality. More specifically, I dreamed of a future with flying cars whizzing around the world without any traffic or constraints. Although the technology for flying cars is still a work in progress, there is no doubt that our cars are getting smarter and smarter and I think in the next couple of years self-driving cars will be more and more popular. Driverless car technology that removes human error from the driving experience saw an eruption of interest in 2016 by corporations and investors. According to CB Insights, a NY based data company, there have been a dozen venture capital-backed exits in the auto tech sector since 2012, with five in 2016 alone. But there are many problems with autonomous vehicles as current projections have them costing anywhere between $20K to $50K and it will require trillions of dollars with decades of production to get penetration high enough to rid the world of accidents.
Nexar has developed an artificial intelligence dashcam app that operates through machine vision and sensory algorithms using the driver’s phone sensors to analyze and understand the car’s surroundings and provide protective documentation in case of accidents. Nexar has a goal to one day rid the world of car accidents.
Car crashes are one of the most significant problems in the world today, with nearly 1.3 million people dying in road crashes each year; an average of 3,287 deaths a day. Additionally, 20-50 million are injured or disabled from accidents. Road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29, and the second leading cause of death worldwide among young people ages 5-14. What’s more, the rates of collisions and fatalities are growing around 10% year over year for the last five years. In America, over 37,000 people die in road crashes each year while an additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled. Per the Association for Safe International Road Travel, unless action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.
Nexar was founded by Eran Shir and Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz in early 2015. Eran Shir serves as the CEO and is a serial entrepreneur and investor. Before Nexar, Eran was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Aleph VC and served as an executive at Yahoo following Yahoo’s acquisition of his previous startup, Dapper. Eran explained Nexar in his own words: “We’re about trying to build a new, scalable and democratic mechanism to prevent collisions. Given the technology that exists today, the fact that there are still tens of thousands of fatal vehicle collisions in the US each year is unacceptable. We can’t afford to wait for the advent of autonomous cars to remove human error from the equation. With Nexar, users can avoid unfortunate accidents by getting more pertinent information about the road in real-time, saving lives and making the roads a safer place for everyone.” Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz, currently serves as the CTO, is a technologist on a mission to change the world using data and machine learning. Before Nexar, Bruno was a Yahoo Senior Fellow, leading Yahoo’s ad targeting and advertising teams. Before joining Yahoo, Bruno held technology leadership roles at Fidelity Investments and Accenture’s Center for Strategic Research Group. They currently have 25 other employees continuing to develop the company’s product. Nexar raised a $4 million Series A funding round in May 2015 from Aleph VC and Slow Ventures. It followed this up by raising $10.5 million in June 2016 in a second round of Series A funding. This round was led by Mosiac Ventures and True Ventures with contributions from prior investors Aleph and Slow Ventures. The company has offices in Tel Aviv and San Francisco and is looking to add even more people to their staff in both locations.
What exactly does the Nexar app offer? In short, the promise of vehicle-to-vehicle technology is connecting vehicles so they behave more like a school of fish than a collection of selfish, berserk rhinos. Nexar is a real-time network connecting cars nearby. Using this vehicle-to-vehicle network (V2V network), Nexar can warn its users in real-time of dangerous situations happening beyond each individual driver’s line of sight. The app can issue a forward collision warning, giving drivers more time to react, so they have a chance to plan around it. The app makes use of your phone’s camera, accelerometer, and gyroscope, noting when you pump the brakes, where you are on the road, and whether other vehicles are nearby. It relies on machine learning to interpret that data, so the more experience the app gets on the road, the better it becomes at spotting problems and warning drivers. Nexar’s vision is that when enough drivers start using the app, the vehicle-to-vehicle network will get better at alerting drivers about upcoming accidents or someone doing a hard stop a few cars ahead. Additionally, the depth of Nexar’s on-device analysis allows it to create a collision reconstruction report that completely transforms the insurance claims process. Nexar adds a video of the crash to the claim, alongside a detailed reconstruction based on the phone’s sensor readings. Nexar’s technology has a lot of life-saving potential that they are waiting to unleash with the growth of their V2V network.
On top of this, the company is even planning to roll out driving scores, assigned by driving habits and tied to license plate numbers, as well. Nexar can keep tabs on specific dangerous and rude drivers by remembering their license plate and ranking them. So, you may be warned to avoid a driver in front of you if Nexar knows that they have a tendency of driving too fast or braking too hard. Nexar is trying to perfect how to deliver information and specific tips to drivers, such as to stop taking right turns so hard or back off that truck in front of you. Regardless, knowing that you have a bad driver nearby could be a huge help on the road. As the saying goes, driving isn’t just about being a good driver, but knowing how to avoid the bad drivers.
In February 2016, Nexar launched their iOS Apple app and in August released the Android version. Before Nexar launched in February they ran a six-month beta-testing period in Tel-Aviv. There are two notable differences between the older IOS and the Android version of the app. First, the Android version has a dual-camera mode, meaning that drivers can record inside and outside the vehicle simultaneously. On IOS it’s only possible to record through one at a time. This should help increase usage by professional drivers, such as those who work with Uber or Lyft, as they can track what’s happening on the roads while also recording passengers to help settle disputes at a later point. The second notable difference is that on Android, Nexar can be used in the background, meaning users can switch to whatever other apps they like, and Nexar will still record. This will be important to those who prefer to use other navigation apps as opposed to Nexar’s navigation.
Nexar is among the first companies to tap Waze’s transport SDK, bringing the Google-owned company’s crowdsourced navigation data into the mix. Waze Transport SDK links your app to Waze and provides free driving data including ETA & routing points. Waze announced its new SDK back in January 2016 and included a number of notable companies for the launch, including Genesis Pulse, JustPark, Cornershop, Cabify, 99Taxis, and Lyft. Though it’s free to use, companies still have to apply, so access is not automatically granted. Thanks to the Waze integration, Nexar users can now switch between the two services with minimal effort: a long tap opens a menu to input a destination. Users can also receive turn-by-turn navigation through audio directions, negating the need to interact with the app directly. And this ties in with the underlying safety element that Nexar pitches as one of its core selling points as you can plug your destination in at the start of a ride and then simply let the dashcam do its thing from then on. “Safety and navigation are both essential in creating an optimal driving experience,” said Shir. “Partnering with Waze, the world’s largest navigation app, is a perfect fit for us. Our users can now enjoy the peace of mind of driving with Nexar and still be able to get to their destination through the most efficient route.”
Ultimately, Nexar has a large target market, which is why it could become one of the must-have apps. Anyone who drives a car—from Sunday-afternoon cruisers to 24/7 Uber drivers—could find a use for this, and the more uptake it gets, the better it should become as a safety tool for drivers. But how, exactly, does Nexar plan to turn their app into revenue? One idea is bringing insurance companies and fleets to the 21st century. They could streamline insurance companies’ claims process with a unique accident 3D reconstruction. This would allow insurance companies to personalize their offerings and provide discounts to safe drivers. Already, insurance companies have teamed up with the startup to reward drivers for good behavior. Another possible revenue stream would be similar to how other free apps generate revenue, by selling anonymized data. One example would be automakers using Nexar’s incredible amount of data to understand what happens to cars on the road, as these automakers try to improve their auto design or technology.
Nexar isn’t the first company to utilize V2V technology to prevent accidents. The Department of Transportation had developed its own V2V solution, a Dedicated Short Range Communications system that works through short or medium range wireless channels. The problem is, it requires building new capabilities into every car. While automakers are starting to make that happen, market penetration will take a long time. On the other hand, since Nexar uses your phone and a mount for the windshield, it is far more economical than buying a new car or redesigning every pre-existing car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hoped that sometime in 2020 this vision of vehicle-to-vehicle communication would start to become a reality. Automakers then forecasted it would take another five years for enough cars to be equipped with V2V technology to start to see safer roads and a sharp decline in road fatalities. The idea of waiting until 2025 in order to see safer roads is an awfully long time. Nexar has exceeded expectations and totally redefined the speed and implementation of this technology.
However, it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies when looking at the capabilities of this app. Since the Nexar app is constantly using your phone’s camera to survey the road, it’s sending all that data back to its Israel-based servers for analysis. Opting into the app means that Nexar has every right to do whatever it wants with your data, including selling it to third parties, as was discussed earlier. And though the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says there isn’t a formal agreement in place, there are sources that say Nexar has agreed to share driving data with the government. So, your driving data is being sold to other companies or the government and that is a scary thought for people scared of being followed or tracked. Also, the amount of data it will use on your phone is unclear and that could provide additional costs and problems depending on driver’s cell phone plans.
Shir said back during the summer of 2016 before the Android version release, “In the first six months of 2016, there’s been a nine percent increase in motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S., and this is a global trend. Already today, drivers who use Nexar can get evidence and protect themselves in case of a crash. Furthermore, when drivers use Nexar, they join a network with other drivers. The network crowdsources real-time hazards on the road and eventually, as the network grows, it will warn drivers in real time of potentially dangerous situations.” He reported that drivers have notched up more than eight million miles in its app since its launch on iOS, with more than half-a-million “dangerous driving” incidents clocked, and more than one hundred crashes documented. If Nexar will be successful, it will need these numbers to continue to grow as they strive to create a driving network that will make the roads safer for everyone.Tags: Benjamin Zirman, business, Israeli Tech
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