For some years now the young driver insurance sector has been a niche where telematics has played a big part in effectively capping premiums at an affordable level. The black box, often with a night curfew attached, has allowed many under-25s to get on the road and start to build up their No Claims Discount
But what if the new generation of smartphones, coupled with the Internet of Things made vision-based telematics the mainstream, almost default choice, for many commuters and leisure drivers? Insurance Edge spoke to Aviv Cohen from Nexar, who sees dash-mounted, web-connected smartphones as the way ahead.
IE: Things are changing at a rapid pace in telematics, how did the Nexar project come about?
AC: I’ve spent about eight years in the insurance industry, working with Lloyds, Endsleigh and others. What we’re doing with Nexar couldn’t have been attempted even two years ago, because it’s taken a huge technological leap in terms of smartphone capability to get to this point. Now we have phones with high definition video, plus phone networks that can handle more data, more reliably too. Then there’s the rise of autonomous cars and smart road systems – right now the timing is right for smartphones to disrupt the telematics sector.
IE: Is a vision based telematics system inherently better than a traditional black box?
AC: There are plus points for the black box device and it has a future. I think it is perhaps the best solution for fleet managers, or young drivers. Fleet owners need to know where a vehicle is, average speed, time spent at a particular stop-point – that type of thing. Young drivers respond to discounts on their next month’s instalment payment, assuming they drove within the rules.
But older drivers cannot be tempted so much by discounts, they already get an NCD. Then there’s the third party installation costs of black boxes; a smartphone telematics system is less costly to install, since most of us now own a smartphone, and much of the AI software that’s coming down the line is designed to work on the mobile platform – that’s important.
The thing to bear in mind is that we aren’t trying to capture every journey, those videos are not being watched by anyone. What we’re doing is using AI to identify specific events within that journey, and make the journey safer.
IE: Give us an example
AC: The Nexar system is different from telematics because it is watching the road space, as well as monitoring the speed, braking and cornering forces etc of the vehicle. So let’s say a smooth, steady driver runs a red light – the Nexar system flashes an alert because it sees the red light, even if the driver does not. It also has a proximity sensor, so if a truck or car is tailgating, it can warn the driver and then they have an option of taking action – or at least being aware of that hazard behind them.
IE: Reading your website earlier, I saw something about AI understanding `swarm’ behaviours on the road – what’s that?
AC: So, swarm driving is the type of travel you might see on a motorway or Interstate; a bunch of vehicles, all travelling at roughly the same speed. The software looks for cars, bikes, or anything that is deviating from the general pattern of the swarm, or `herd’ if you like. Again, it will identify that hazard to the driver via an audible and visual alert on the phone. So as you travel, you have a kind of driving coach, or manager, that is watching out for potential problems.
IE: So as a driver uses Nexar, it is gradually building up a picture of your driving style, spotting risky areas on your route, or identifying lapses in concentration?
AC: Yes exactly. The system can look at a series of errors, or habits, and offer an alert. Nexar can store a set number of events per mile, so it can predict the probability of an accident to an extent by creating a family of events.
IE: Let’s assume there is an accident, what happens then?
AC: Nexar, like all telematics systems is streamlining and disrupting the traditional claims process. How? Through independent data. The smartphone’s gyro and motion sensors tell part of the story, then there’s data from the journey leading up to the incident. Not only does Nexar send a help message out, (should the driver need that) but it also sends a FNOL report to the insurer within minutes. From that report a 3D graphic of the accident; road layout, position of vehicles, overhead view etc can all be downloaded and stored as a data file.
Once the claim is online it can be managed by everyone involved; insurer, claims company, legal teams, the policyholder and so on. That new benchmark, the convergence of data from the road incident to the information sourced post-accident is what saves huge amounts of time and money.
IE: Capturing granular level data would also help assess injury claims too?
AC: Absolutely. The data from each event can be compared; speed, braking force, the direction or angle of impact from another vehicle and so on. That calibrated information is important as the claim is managed. But let me add one important point; our company mission is not to save money but to save lives. We see a huge road safety opportunity in connected roads and vehicles because drivers will soon see on-board telematics apps as accident avoidance systems, rather than a crash recording devices – big difference.
Nexar is still a young company but we already have emails from customers saying `thanks to your system I avoided a dangerous driver today,’ or `I had an accident but your data helped establish who was to blame quickly, which helped me so much.’ Getting that feedback is a part of the development for us too of course.
IE: In another ten years, will we all be driving connected cars to some degree?
AC: I think so. As we scale up with Nexar it means the chances of a Nexar driver interacting with another driver using the same system increases. Other devices can also communicate car-to-car, and to smart tech sensors installed at the roadside. We are working in Nevada on a project specifically looking at connected roads and the benefits of that will be seen in driver alerts and independent, third vehicle or roadside video footage. When people realise that their driving is being monitored then most of the risk-taking drivers will begin to modify their behaviour. That means fewer road accidents, lower casualty rates and reduced costs for the insurance industry.
IE: Thank you Aviv.