Selfie deaths while driving: IIT-Bombay and Birla Institute grads build Kruzr to stop accidents

5th Sep 2017
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After 10,000 downloads of its smart driving assistant mobile app Kruzr, Bengaluru-based tech startup aims to work with OEMs to promote safe driving.

Over the last eight months, Central Minister for Road Transportation Nitin Gadkari’s advert on selfie-related deaths is being heavily plugged. In it, the minister claims that 50 percent of all selfie-related deaths happen in India.

It is true that most of us who own vehicles have smartphones. Gartner predicted that India sold more than 170 million smartphones last year alone. India has around 250 million smartphones, with major consumption of services in top cities. According to SIAM, India sold 14 million cars over the last seven years and close to 100 million two-wheelers. How do the two entwine?

Kruzr founding team

It’s common to see smartphones become such an integral part of life that many people drive cars or ride two-wheelers while calling or texting. We all know it’s not safe to do this, but continue to do it anyway. It is estimated by the Ministry of Transportation of India that 90 percent of individuals owning vehicles talk on the phone while driving or riding their vehicle.

That’s why Pallav Singh, a graduate from the 2009 batch of IIT Bombay, and Dinesh Fatehpuria, of the 2011 batch of Birla Institute, decided to do something about this modern issue. The duo, who met courtesy common friends, decided to start a venture to solve this problem.

“We got talking about how machine learning could solve problems unique to Indian customers,” Dinesh says. He adds that data about smartphones, cars and bike sales correlated with accidents became their main point of discussion.

And Kruzr was born in June 2015.

Three years and testing 20,000 calls later, the company has invented technology that locks the screen when a person is driving. The software in the smartphone can figure out movements through gyro sensors housed in the phone and determine if a person is moving in a vehicle or not.

How do the sensors differentiate between a person driving and a person walking or running?

Through pattern recognition, the underlying technology of Kruzr.

Running and driving have different motion sensors and speed patterns. When you run, there's repeated impact on landing and hand/feet movement depending on where your phone is stored – this doesn’t happen while driving.

“We do tests on the algorithm to eliminate non-driving situations,” Pallav says.

The technology

It took the company two years of hardcore research to get their technology spot on.

Kruzr now functions as a driving assistant. When it detects that you are driving, it automatically starts handling all your calls and messages. If you receive a call, Kruzr will inform the caller that you are driving and ask them to continue only if it is very important. A built-in smart chatbot handles messages on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and SMS. The chatbot interacts with the person and informs them that you are driving. Important messages are recorded for you but displayed only when you stop next. Messages that are not important show up when your trip is over.

The software locks the phone and there is no way to access the phone unless the bike or car stops.

“If it is an emergency, the caller presses 1. After knowing you are driving, this is how we treat the call as important and connect the driver,” Pallav says.

At this point, the system links to the car’s Bluetooth or the person can pick the phone. As many as 95 percent of calls on the Kruzr platform is recorded as not important.

After 10,000 downloads of the Kruzr app and Rs 50 lakh in investment, the company is now looking at several business models.

The business of safety

Safety is big business. A visit to the offices of Continental and Bosch reveals the amount of work being done on safety, passive and active.

In Bengaluru, at Continental Automotive, Dr Bernhard Klumpp, Executive Vice President, Passive Safety & Sensorics Business Unit, and member of its Management Board, Chassis and Safety Division, is working with 200 engineers to prepare technologies that can fit the lifecycle and maturity of each country in accepting connected technologies.

Continental is readying passive safety systems like ABS and airbags to go in cars that cost less than $10,000 in India. While all this research is going into safety, no one has really looked at the hazard phones can pose on the road. Companies are betting on algorithms to solve real-world problems, and Kruzr is on the money when it comes to getting big companies like Bosch and Continental to take them seriously.

“Today, algorithms for cloud-based cars are still in the lab stage. Homologation of these technologies for specific markets will be a challenge. But technologies that save people will be in-built in cars,” Klumpp says. He adds that controllers that support integration of active and passive safety systems require clear design rules of the software before they enter any market.

Continental, for instance, is working with controllers that predict a crash and its outcomes in milliseconds, which will assist in the opening of side airbags in a rollover. Where and how does Kruzr play a role? After the airbags save the driver, the person can be suffering from shock and trauma. The software triggers an alarm in the app and automatically sends messages to ambulance services and the police. It can even call the driver’s kin immediately.

Working with OEMs

Pallav says Kruzr is looking at mobile handset manufacturers, mobile network providers, automobile OEMs as potential distribution partners.

“Currently we are looking at customer acquisitions before going after distribution partners,” he adds.

The business is yet to generate significant revenues and the founders chose not to disclose details as things are in testing and development stage.

“Presently, we are executing custom/white-label solutions for corporates,” Pallav says. Kruzr is white-labelling the solution for corporates to ensure that their employees and fleet drivers do not use the phone while driving.

The company hopes to tie up with all fleet companies in India and ensure that their drivers do not get distracted by calls.

Pallav and Dinesh say their system can be customised for anyone with a large fleet. For example, if an Uber driver is on duty, his phone can be locked and he will be allowed to make calls only after completion of a trip.

Safety systems in India

The market size for safety systems in India is still very tiny. From next year, ABS and airbags will be standard in a car. With connected systems becoming popular, the Kruzr system will be a welcome addition to safety in India.

The closest competitors to Kruzr are TrakNTell and Raksha Safedrive, two startups which fix systems on to the car to take care of emergencies in case of an accident. These businesses have an app to connect to the police or the ambulance. However, Kruzr can be complementary to these businesses because it is part of active safety systems and can prevent distractions.

As long as there are smart phones, people will continue talking and taking selfies while driving. With Kruzr, Pallav and Dinesh aim to stop them and ensure they cruise home safely.

 

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