Eno Transportation Weekly
How Driversiti Is Using Smartphones to Make Safer Drivers
September 7, 2016
With a mission to make our streets safer by improving driver behavior, New Jersey-based Driversiti is leveraging mobile technology to redefine traffic safety initiatives in the 21st century.
Driversiti is the first of its kind in tracking driver behavior using cell phones to actively collect real-time data on driver movements and behavior. Its smartphone platform collects information on vehicle position, highway congestion, road and weather conditions, collision notifications, and whether the driver is holding the device while the vehicle is in motion.
Sascha Simon, a veteran of the aerospace and automobile industries, founded Driversiti in 2012. His experience in physics and telematics inspired him to harness technological advances to reduce the inefficiencies and hazards of modern travel.
When he began his career in the German aerospace industry, Simon worked on low earth orbit (LEO) telecommunications satellites. He helped to guide the creation of the Galileo navigation system, working at the frontier of what then was called machine-to-machine communication – now known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Simon then led a project that would allow for 24/7 monitoring of German vehicles around the world. But they couldn’t get enough people to agree on its usefulness or method of deployment, so it ultimately did not move forward.
He then worked on the Mercedes-Benz mbrace connected vehicle program. Although Simon felt the program would create unprecedented opportunities for connected car functionality, he was frequently frustrated by the business-as-usual attitudes of the auto industry.
As he saw it, the industry faced two major challenges. First, auto manufacturers rarely come together to agree on standards and secondly, it was difficult to convince industry leaders of the importance of connected cars.
Even with rapid technological advances, it was five years before mbrace finally launched in 2012.
“At that pace, I might not have even seen [something like Driversiti] in my lifetime,” says Simon.
After the release of mbrace, Simon saw an opportunity to leverage his expertise in physics and machine learning to create a connected, informed platform to promote driver safety. Looking farther down the road, he also saw how this could pave the way for a transportation ecosystem where cars and pedestrians instantly exchange information.
In order to create an agile and flexible working environment that encouraged innovation, he left Mercedes-Benz and founded Driversiti in 2013.
The technology he envisioned would use powerful computing devices with sophisticated sensors and capabilities well beyond the hardware typically installed in automobiles.
He was thinking, of course, about smartphones.
The hardware inside of each smartphone has the capacity to sense its global position as well as its pitch, yaw, roll, velocity, cardinal direction, and much more.
This allows the Driversiti app to work in the background of phones, collecting sensor data to analyze driving habits, drivers’ movements, personal movements when not driving, and many more data points.
Driversiti started with road safety in mind, focusing on four critical functions for drivers:
- Crash detection;
- Alerting drivers when they show signs of fatigue or dangerous driving;
- Coaching drivers and helping them to avoid hazards;
- Meeting the needs of fleet operators and enterprise
At present, most of Driversiti’s business comes from freight operators that choose to substitute away from their current communications platforms in trucks, which can often be hundreds of dollars more expensive than an cell phone and – according to Simon – less capable than an iPhone equipped with Driversiti.
Using the Driversiti dashboard, fleet operators can track their drivers’ movements in real-time and receive instant notifications of collisions. Over time, this allows operators to optimize truck routes by avoiding hazardous or highly congested areas.
To overcome potential resistance to the platform from drivers, fleet operators employ incentive structures and metrics for safe driving, “game-ifying” driver performance. According to Simon, drivers have only provided positive feedback, as this system benefits them in doing their jobs properly – and they’ve even found this to be less obtrusive than current automatic vehicle location (AVL) hardware.
With its enterprise system now operational and in use by multiple operators, Driversiti has now turned its attention to more complex and fine-tuned operations, such as sensing driving conditions (e.g. wet or icy roads, state of road disrepair) and detecting instances of texting and driving.
Eventually, this will yield opportunities for partnerships with insurance agencies, telecommunications companies, and public safety organizations to provide real-time coaching on driving habits for non-commercial drivers (e.g. informing drivers when they are speeding in a high-risk area, alerting drivers when their car is hydroplaning, etc.).
When asked about privacy concerns in the United States, Simon provides a genuine and thoughtful response to those concerns, as well as his efforts to work with regulators on formalizing privacy rules – this is a welcome change from typical responses of indignation and obfuscation from other players in the tech industry.
“There are issues on both sides of [processing] data,” he says, “and that is with phones and V2X.” Driversiti removes any personally identifiable information (PII) that would be included in data shared with public entities (e.g. cities, state departments of transportation), providing only non-identifiable metadata.
“We’re not creating a black box,” says Simon, “but something to provide valuable information that will be a social good.”
NHTSA is beginning to explore best practices for information sharing and will soon release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on data sharing in connected vehicles. Driversiti intends to submit comments.
In the coming years Driversiti intends to expand its reach to other parts of the mobility ecosystem, and has already filed patents to this end.
Hinting at the limitations of the LIDAR sensors that power the operations of autonomous vehicles (AVs), Simon indicates that pedestrians will need to have “digital ID tags” for AVs to detect and avoid them. Thus, the next field of play for Driversiti will likely be vehicle-pedestrian collision avoidance, with personal safety features garnished into it.
The platform’s applications could also extend well beyond transportation, Simon projected. “Why don’t we embrace the person, not just the system?”
Through tinkering with smartphone sensors, Driversiti has also uncovered opportunities to apply smartphone sensors to comprehensive health initiatives.
Potential applications include a LifeAlert-esque system, where seniors would have software installed on their phones that would immediately notify their family and/or emergency responders if they collapse and are unresponsive.
In the coming months, Driversiti is expected to expand its footprint through new partnerships with personal transportation, telecommunications, and mobility companies.