Want to talk and drive? Use a protective Aura over your smartphone

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Poor Newton must have had such a rude shock when that proverbial apple fell hard on his head. Science textbooks present it as the perfect example of a fortunate accident leading to a great discovery - the principles of gravity - which changed everything.

Now, it may be quite a stretch to draw a parallel between that apple falling on Newton's head and a car accident that made engineer Saurabh Palan think hard about how to make his smart phone safer. But, for Saurabh too, it was that moment of serendipity that led him to develop a device that would let him safely use a smartphone while driving, called Aura. Stats say there are about 660,000 people using smartphones while driving at any given time in daylight, so that is a huge amount of risky behaviour that Aura can eliminate. Newton probably never sat under a fruit-laden apple tree again, and Saurabh too is unlikely to be talking on a smartphone while driving without the protection of Aura ever again.

YourStory chats with Saurabh, who quit his job with a Silicon Valley industrial robotics company to start MightyCarma, Inc. and develop Aura.

What is Aura?

Aura is the first smartphone-to-car integration. Currently, no other device allows people to use phone while driving in a safe way. All existing devices require touching a touch screen, thus compelling drivers take their eyes off the road. Aura is changing that. Aura takes smartphones from a driving distraction to driving companion.

What specific needs are you trying to address?

Historically, drive-safe campaigns run on simple abstinence messages (“Don’t Use Your Phone While Driving”), haphazard law enforcement, and fear of accidents or an expensive penalty. These campaigns are ineffective and impractical -- it's evident from the number of accidents caused by talking on the phone while driving. Aura addresses this problem by lessening risks and distractions, thus ultimately saving lives.

What are your challenges?

Building a hardware device is always a challenge. As a business, it requires huge capital to begin with. Also, unlike software, once shipped, the hardware cannot be fixed for any problems. As they say, there's a reason why it's called hardware -- because it's hard.

So manufacturing and capital are the two biggest challenges. Also, being a first time entrepreneur, there's a lot that I can learn only by doing. Thus, making it more difficult in terms of time and finances.

What is the market you intend to target?

Anyone with a smartphone and drives a car is a potential customer. The market is really huge -- considering that just the top 25% of the US population and teen drivers alone sums up to a $7.4B market.

What stage are you at presently?

Currently, we are raising through crowd-funding on KickStarter. People who would like to use our product can back us (pledge money) and if we get enough traction, we will build the product and ship it to people when we are ready.

How do you plan to scale?

We plan to directly reach consumers through retail channels. Also, we will be partnering with non-profit organisations to promote safe driving. Eventually, we would like to tie up with automobile OEM to license our technology to their new vehicles.

Tell us about MightyCarma.

At MightyCarma, we have a team of seven amazing engineers with experience working the companies like Intel, Google, Nvidia and Dell, and technical expertise in software, networking, hardware and mechanical design.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a robotics engineer with Masters in Robotics from University of Pennsylvania. I have been in Silicon Valley for the past three years and worked with startup as well as established corporation. I am also an active founding member with the Silicon Valley Robotics organization, an umbrella organization helping and connecting robotics startups in San Francisco Bay area.

What motivates you?

I am always thinking of ways in which I can use technology to enhance our lives -- ways of using my knowledge and technical skills to make people lives better, safer and easier. Knowing that we’ll be able to keep millions of smartphone users, drivers and pedestrians much safer is the key motivation for me to work on MightyCarma.

Tell us three principles you believe are vital for startup success.

  1. Keep going, even when the path is not visible, keep walking, you will find a way.
  2. Be nimble and be lean. Helps keep you ahead of competition.
  3. Money can solve a lot of problems, challenge is to solve it without it.

Visit MightyCarma website here.

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