PORTLAND, Ore. The most successful driver-assistance systems today are not real-time, like the EyeQ system-on-chip (SoC) from STMicroelectronics and Mobileye, but, instead, offer reports on dangerous driving incidents the next day. By using pattern recognition to detect risky driving and on human experts to give advice on how to improve each individual's driving safety record, companies like DriveCam Inc. (San Diego, Calif.) are lowering costs for fleet owners and bringing peace of mind to parents worried about reckless driving by their teenagers. DriveCam monitors its in-vehicle cameras 24/7 for $75 per month, for which you get recordings of all risky events plus written evaluations and concrete advice for improving driver safety.
"The core of our capabilities is not the real-time recording, but the off-line post-processing that keeps us from uploading and having to review video with useless data. We use a very sophisticated algorithm that monitors our three-axis accelerometer, along with the GPS and speed data, to determine whether the risk of an event would make it valuable enough to a trainer to warrant uploading," said Peter Ellegaard, DriveCam's vice president of hardware and firmware engineering. "We have a video buffer so we can see what the driver sees and what the driver does before, during and after a triggered event. Our "Risk Predict" algorithm then screens the recorded events, so we just upload those that were, in fact, risky."
DriveCam currently has mobile cameras in more than 100,000 commercial and consumer vehicles, and 100 percent penetration in a few markets, such as Las Vegas taxi cabs, which are all equipped with DriveCams. When a risky event is triggered, not only video recorded and evaluated by Risk Predicts is processed, but all DriveCams monitor their own internal three-axis MEMS accelerometer, from MEMSIC Inc. (Andover, Mass.), to detect potential dangerous driving incidents.
"We capture events because of an accelerometer trigger we have built into our device. Based on hard-braking, hard acceleration and swerving we trigger video recordings of [what happened] just before, during and just after a risky event," said Ellegaard
After recording the automatically triggered events, DriveCam's recordings are validated before uploading with its Risk Predict pattern-recognition software running in overnight batches. Verified dangerous events then have their video uploaded to DriveCam using the Sierra Wireless 3G module that connects to Sprint EVDO. Uploaded events are then scored by DriveCam's human experts and sent to clients with instructional training suggestions for those who do the actual coaching of drivers.
"Our Sierra Wireless 3G connection uploads the events deemed valuable by our recognition software, which the University of Michigan helped us design. Then we have actual people score the risky events which are then sent to the fleet manager, or in the case of consumers, the parents of the teenagers, who will do the actual training," said Ellegaard.
DriveCam claims its approach reduces vehicle damage, workers' compensation and personal injury costs by 50 percent for its fleet clients. For the consumer, the company claims a 70 percent reduction in reportable crashes with teenage drivers who have DriveCams' in their vehicle. One believer is the insurance company American Family, which gives individuals that it insures a free DriveCam just for requesting one. American Family pays for the DriveCam hardware and installation, as well as the usual monitoring fees for uploading and scoring dangerous incidents.
"American Family says it saves far more in reduced numbers of claims, than it costs them to pay for DriveCam's service," said Ellegaard.
DriveCam is one step beyond GM's OnStar and Ford's Sync, which have global positioning systems (GPS) and wireless connections but no camera-based driver assistance. DriveCam's two-camera system installs in any vehicle with one camera looking ahead and one that shows the driver. A control unit under the seat contains a Linux-based microprocessor that monitors the cameras, the GPS signal and the three-axis accelerometer. It also uploads all collected data via the Sierra Wireless 3G service.