FutureStructure

App, Vehicle-to-Vehicle Network Seeks to Predict and Prevent Accidents

A new app instantly detects dangers on the road and provides “watch out” life-saving warnings, among other things.

by Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle / November 22, 2016
Screenshot from the Nexar connected dash cam Nexar

(TNS) -- Eran Shir has an ambitious goal: Eliminate car crashes without waiting for the advent of autonomous vehicles.

His company Nexar makes an app that turns smartphones into an “intelligent” dashcam that uses the phone’s camera, accelerometer and gyroscope to collect information about what’s happening on the road and to send it to the cloud for machine-learning analysis. Nexar now is crowdsourcing its data in San Francisco and New York to give drivers a real-time heads-up about dangers such as cars ahead suddenly stopping or swerving.

“We are weaving everyone together to build a network of vehicles to track what’s happening on the road, that can predict and prevent accidents,” said Shir, co-founder and CEO of Tel Aviv’s Nexar, which has offices in San Francisco and New York. For instance, “If you brake hard, all the cars behind you will be aware of that within 50 milliseconds.”

But doesn’t Nexar’s vehicle-to-vehicle network require a huge installed base to be effective? Shir said it will work well even when only a sliver of users have the app installed. “Having 1 percent to 4 percent in a city the size of San Francisco is enough,” he said.

“We are aware not only of our own users but everyone they are next to,” he said. “It becomes a great multiplier; we can see three to 10 other vehicles (at any given time) and since vehicles are in constant motion, we will see many more as they drive.”

Its warnings such as “vehicle stopped ahead” are displayed on the screen of the phone that’s mounted on the dashboard, and can also be spoken. Critics point out that this approach can itself create distractions, however.

Since launching in February, Nexar said it has accrued a few thousand users in both San Francisco and New York, mainly professionals such as limo drivers and Uber and Lyft drivers, who now will be connected to one another. In Manhattan, Nexar “sees” every mile of road an average of 50 times a day, Shir said.

Nexar can create collision reports that include both video and detailed reconstruction based on the sensors. The app is free; a dashboard mount for the smartcam costs $7. Shir said the 35-person company, which has $14.5 million in backing, will make money by leveraging its data, and helping fleets benefit from insurance discounts.

Nexar, like Palo Alto’s Nauto, which makes a dashcam backed by artificial intelligence, is among a bevy of contenders in telematics — transmitting data about car behavior for analysis. Both Nexar and Nauto say their technology provides a natural bridge to future autonomous vehicles.

“Companies developing autonomous vehicles need to test out their algorithms on all the crazy, extreme situations that happen in the world,” Shir said. For instance, “cars in India have to share the road with cows. We use the data we collect to build a training and benchmarking playground for autonomous vehicles. It’s like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ but embedded in the real world.”

Limo driver John Bulawsky said he used Nexar in both his personal and business car. “It’s just peace of mind to get in the car in the morning and turn that camera on,” he said. “When things happen where normally you wouldn’t have any record or recourse, you’ve got an extra set of eyes sitting up there on the dash.”

After his car was rear-ended, Nexar generated an eight-page report that helped with his insurance claim. Another time, a motorcycle clipped another car’s sideview mirror. Nauto captured the motorcyclist’s license plate and he gave that information to the driver whose mirror was taken off.

The alerts are also helpful. “I’ve seen a lot of accidents caused by people swerving because of something on the road or a pothole,” he said. “To know you’re coming up on a potential problem is huge, especially at 60 or 65 mph.”

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid

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