This Israeli app names and shames bad drivers to reduce road deaths
You’re driving along, when some $%#!@ recklessly cuts in front of you, switches lanes without signaling or otherwise endangers everyone else on the road. If the offending vehicle happens to have a bumper sticker that reads “how am I driving?” you can report it, or if not you can photograph the car’s license plate and report it to the police. But more often than not you just mutter some choice words under your breath and continue with your day.
Nexar is a just-launched Israeli startup that turns your smartphone into a smart dashboard camera with the ability to record and report bad drivers in the hope of making our roads safer.
Algorithms that catch bad guys
On Wednesday, Nexar launched its connected drivers network in Los Angeles. The company’s technology combines input from users with computer vision and machine learning to enhance road safety.
The moment a user starts driving, the app continuously films and records the road ahead in the same way a regular dashcam does. It then integrates this information with location and speed information from a user’s smartphone.
The app detects dangerous driving in two ways: First, if the user experienced another driver being reckless, he can report the offender with a press of a button. The app will automatically attach a video clip of the incident to this report. Think of it as a “downvote” for that particular driver. Once the app gets multiple reports on the same driver, the driver will be flagged.
Second, at the end of your trip, the entire video is uploaded to the cloud. Using computer vision algorithms, Nexar analyzes the video, identifies dangerous driving behaviors, and extracts the license plate numbers of the cars involved.
Carrots before sticks
Eran Shir, the CEO and founder of Nexar, told Geektime that the company’s founders were aghast when they learned just how many people are killed in car accidents. Over 30,000 people die in car accidents in the U.S. alone every year, and over 1.3 million globally. The societal costs, according to Nexar, are in the hundreds of billions.
“The more we learned, the greater our shock at the number of needless deaths that could be prevented. We believe in the power of the community to call out and fix bad driving behavior that we all come across from time to time.”
Despite the app’s potential to mete out punishment, Shir said that he “believes in carrots above sticks.” Shir expects that some drivers will modify their behavior out of fear of being filmed, but others will do so because insurance companies will reward drivers whom Nexar deems as conscientious.
Are there any privacy issues with filming the activity of other vehicles?
According to Shir, no. Everything Nexar films is in the public domain. Shir assured Geektime that Nexar will not pass on information about reckless drivers to third parties and will only use it to warn other drivers.
But other drivers are potentially everyone. What’s to stop traffic police officers from installing Nexar? If the app is widely adopted, it will certainly make their lives easier.
Can Nexar be abused, Geektime asked Shir? What if you randomly report someone because you don’t like them? Shir says that any video clip flagged as problematic will undergo two stages of review: first by computer vision algorithms and second by actual humans who will make the final call.
Won’t the app use up a lot of battery?
Shir says that despite the fact that your phone’s camera is continuously filming, and despite the fact that calculations are taking place on your phone, Nexar still consumes less battery power than navigation apps that make massive use of GPS, like Waze for instance. In any case, says Shir, most of us place our phones in chargers while driving.
The end of anonimity?
If Nexar were an app deployed by the government, there would certainly be an outcry from civil liberties advocates. It remains to be seen whether drivers will adopt the app in large numbers in the hope of saving lives, or find it too Big-Brother-like for their taste:
What is being lost, however, with apps like this one, is the opportunity to be anonymous. People used to move out of small towns to the big city because they wanted to start afresh in a place where all their neighbors didn’t know their business. Think of Dorothy leaving Kansas so she could experience new things. Pretty soon, new places may not exist anymore.
Aleph participated in the company’s seed round. The Israeli venture capital firm invested $4 million in the company. Michael Eisenberg, founder and partner of Aleph, said in a statement that, “We thought it inconceivable that we use feedback on phones to improve restaurant service but don’t use it to impact the safety and well-being of so many people.”
Simona Weinglass translated the original article and contributed reporting.