These startups are making Indian roads safe – Entrepreneur

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By Priya Kapoor
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The demise of the former chairman of the Tata Group Cyrus Mistry in a tragic road crash, on September 4, has once again brought the issue of road safety to the fore. The preliminary investigation showed that he was not complying with the rear seat belt rule and the car he was travelling was overspeeding. In the wake of this incident, the Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari has said that he will strictly enforce the use of rear seat belts and offenders would be fined. Besides this, he also asked automakers to introduce a seat belt alarm system for rear seats as is the case with the front seats.
This isn’t the first time that any big name has lost life to a road crash. From Gopinath Munde to Sahib Singh Verma to Rajesh Pilot, India has seen many politicians, celebrities and industrialists succumbing to road crashes. In fact, when it comes to road crashes, India has got a bad reputation. In fact, over a lakh people lose their lives on roads every year.In 2015, India became a signatory of Brasalia declaration to reduce road crashes to half by 2020, but it failed to keep the pledge. In the year gone by (2021), 4.03 lakh ‘road crashes’ took place across the country leading to death of as many as 1.55 lakhs people. The figure translates to the loss of over 400 lives every day or 18 lives every hour. Also, the road crashes injured 3.71 lakh people, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data under the ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India – 2021’. In 2020 and 2019, the road crash figures stood at 4.37 lakh and 3.54 lakh, respectively.
Overspeeding has been the major reason behind road crashes. According to NCRB data, in 2021, of the total 4,03,116 cases, 2,40,828 took place due to overspeeding alone. At 59.7%, it constitutes over half of total crashes. It took 87,050 lives and left 2,28,274 persons injured. It was followed by the second major reason- dangerous/careless driving or overtaking. The latter caused 1,03,629 crashes or 25.7% of total accidents and resulted in the death of 42,853 people and injuries to 91,893 persons.
According to the latest report by Lancet, interventions to check speeding could save 20,554 lives and promotion of crash helmets could save 5,683 lives in India. Encouraging the use of seatbelts can further save 3,204 lives in the country. “Education and enforcement are key in reducing fatalities related to speed on the road. Reducing speed limits, even by as little as 5 km/hr, has been proven to reduce crashes,” said Robert Beaudry, Project Manager, International Association of Chiefs of overtakingOthersPolice, a partner under Bloomberg Intiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS).

Many a lives are lost every day on Indian roads due to distracted driving-feeling drowsy, using mobile phone or simply taking your eyes off the road (even for a split second). Distracted driving is a deadly mix behind the wheel. To prevent loss of lives on account of this, Vanesh Naidoo and Chetna Naidoo, in 2018, started SafeCams, a company that designs and manufactures dash cameras. “While driving on Pune roads, it was terrifying to witness multiple ‘almost accidents’ every day. I had to find a way to feel safe while driving in India and ensure that I was not incorrectly blamed for an accident. I looked for a dash camera in India, but they were not easily available, so I ended up importing a good one,” says Vanesh Naidoo, Co-founder, SafeCams.
So, how does an AI dash camera prevents a road crash? An AI dash camera actively monitors the person behind the wheel. For algorithms to monitor a driver’s face and gestures to ensure that the driver is not falling asleep, smoking, using a mobile phone or being distracted from looking at the road ahead. Dash cameras have an in-built GPS that also tracks speed. ” We have seen that most clients disable speed limiters, so we rather use live GPS tracking within our dash cameras to see if drivers are going over the speed limit,” adds Naidoo.
While the consumer cameras comes with limited AI functions and GPS tracking, the fleet range option offers much more-4G, Wi-Fi, cloud connectivity, GPS and forward collision system. The latter is for companies owning multiple cars to keep a track on. The fleet range has minimum of two cameras-a forward facing camera, which records what’s in the front and a cabin facing camera that monitors the driver. Its AI constantly calculates the distance and speed of the vehicle and compare it to the objects in front of it. If the distance is too narrow, it triggers and alarm and stop a crash from happening.
“All our dash cameras record at full high definition and have a wide-angle lens. Dash cameras offer a sense of security to law abiding drivers because they provide independent video footage that will prove their innocence in an accident,” says Naidoo.
Available on e-commerce websites and on its own site, the price of a normal (basic) dash camera starts from Rs 4,000, while the one with GPS ranges between Rs 12,000-15,000. On the other hand, much advanced fleet cameras is available somewhere around (Rs30,000 to) Rs 50,000. “The dash camera markets needs to see much more volumes and as the volume goes up, we will definitely see prices coming down. Once people are educated about the advantages of an AI Dash Camera they will see the benefits and be willing to pay for this advanced technology.The bootstrapped company is open to funding, and is looking for the right partners to help its business grow.
Who can forget the death of a three-year-old Pavitra who died after falling off his father’s bike when he lost balance due to a pothole filled with water on a national highway in Faridabad, Haryana. When the police filed a closure report, claiming that this was a hit-and-run case, his father Manoj Wadhwa moved the Punjab and Haryana high courts to seek justice for his son’s death in 2016. The court directed Faridabad police to identify the persons responsible for the potholed roads. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed consequently, which held the agencies responsible for the incident.
Between 2018 and 2020, a whopping 5,626 deaths occurred due to road crashes caused by potholes. To prevent loss of lives due to damaged roads, companies like Intents Mobi help end users by providing real time road condition alerts. Once you download Intents Go app by Intents Mobi, whether you use it for navigation purposes or don’t, the system will automatically determine you have started driving and will start monitoring jerks through sensors in the phone. That’s how it captures the data.
“People travel on different types of roads and the sensors capture the vibration pattern of it, which is processed by AI engine to gauge the reason behind it. Some may not be due to a road condition,” Tabrez Alam, Co-founder, Intents Mobi.
The app fetches potholes from around 5k radius and alerts the driver. Moreover, it detects the speed of the vehicle. If you are going slow and able to spot a pothole, it will not give you audio alert but you can see on the app. “Lots of things have gone into the app to ensure that the consumer is not unnecessarly disturbed. We keep getting messages from our users how our app helped them avoid crashes caused by potholes,” adds Alam.The company recently raised $1 m in bridge round, which will be utilised primarily for two purposes, namely technology development and data gathering.
Then there are also companies like RoadMetrics, which indirectly help end users by way of identifiying and correct road defects. The company maps road and street data at scale. Its software is able to use image and sensor data obtained from a simple smartphone to classify. road defects. The company’s customers include private infrastructure companies, city councils and city municipalities who collect the data by mounting a smartphone on the car’s windshield while driving the car through its data collection app.
Since its inception, the company has mapped various cities of India through partnership with infrastructure or private organisations, some of them are Electronic City in Bangalore, Guwahati in Assam, state highway in Bihar and also had a pilot project with Border Road Organisation to map a border road of India.
“As per our current customer’s testimony from Electronic City and Jamshedpur city (Tata Group), the manual assessment which they used to do in 15-30 days,now they are able to complete the same in 1-2 days and at the same time are able to do the repairing work within 1 week. If we can improve the overall road health by detecting road defects at early stage like cracks, ravelling etc. and try to repair that which cost fraction of repairing pothole, then there will be no potholes at all on the road,” says Dipen Babariya, Co-founder, Road Metrics.The deeptech startup has also has an app that alerts road users about the impending dangers on roads but is presently limited to Bangalore.

In the space of road safety, even corporate are coming forward. Intel India has pledged to work towards reducing road crasshes in the country to half by 2025, with the help of an AI-based driver assistance system. According to reports, it has collected 3 million kilometres of road data in partnership with IIIT Hyderabad and CSIR-CRRI to design a safety solution for Indian roads. Intel Onboard Fleet Services, an AI-powered fleet safety solution for commercial vehicles at the Safety Pioneers Conference organised here today. The system, which works on customised algorithms for Indian road conditions, offers features including Collision Avoidance Systems (CAS), driver monitoring systems, fleet telematics, fleet health, and fuel efficiency features. The initiative is currently being run as a pilot project in Nagpur and will be implemented in other cities soon.
Says Amit Kumar Ghosh, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, “While there is a preponderance of startups in sectors like edtech, fintech and Saas, the road sector is still mainly ruled by traditional players” The numbers substaintiate this. According to research platform Tracxn, a there are just 12 startups in road safety space. Of which only four are funded. According to Ghosh, there are ample opportunities for startups in unexplored sectors. So, what could be the reason behind the dearth of startups in road safety space?
Says Alam, “One of the main reasons behind it, in my opinion, is that road safety has always been taken as a ‘social responsibility’ and not a ‘business opportunity’. Let us take the examples of seat belts in cars, helmets and other safety equipments; all of them are aimed at road safety but have been converted into business opportunities as well. We firmly believe that for a technology or a business to make impact, it has to be sustainable though a viable business model and not through grants.”
He further adds, “The government is already putting in a lot of impetus incentivising startups in road safety. They come up with regulations which can help startups initiate a viable business model. The announcement of making six airbags becoming mandatory in a vehicle presents a unique opportunity to all to determine methods which can put six airbags in even smallest of cars. The only challenge with this sector is that it would be a slow adoption sector as it requires a behavioral change not just from users but from companies as well.”
Naidoo cannot agree more, “Unfortunately, in developing countries we don’t have a culture of safety. A lot of startups don’t look at road safety as a space to innovate. But now is the ideal time for them to venture into the space. Safety as a businesss is becoming more widely accepted now as Indians becoming wealthier and looking for ways to protect their wealth and health.”
Former Feature Editor
Priya holds more than a decade of experience in journalism. She has worked on various beats and was chosen as a Road Safety Fellow in 2018, wherein she produced many in-depth & insightful features on road crashes in India. She writes on startups, personal finance and Web3. Outside of work, she likes gardening, driving and reading. 
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