Our smartphones have become powerful enough to start understanding the physical world around us using their cameras and sensors. And mobile apps are just beginning to take advantage of these capabilities.
A new free iPhone app, called Nexar, wants to use computer vision to understand the road. Mounting an iPhone onto a car’s dashboard, the app turns the phone into a dash cam. (Dash cams have become ubiquitous in Russia to protect driver’s against insurance fraud.)
But instead of just passively recording like a regular dash cam, Nexar uses the processing power on the iPhone to try and understand the road. The camera identifies things like traffic signals, license plates and the trajectory of other cars. Using the iPhone’s sensors, the app can also understand if, for instance, the driver brakes hard or if there’s been an accident.
The app’s primary focus is on driver safety. The company says, for example, it can recreate accidents in 3D. When an accident happens, the app uses the combination of the iPhone’s camera and sensors to understand what happened. It creates a 3D model of the car to show the accident — what angle the car was hit, how heavy the impact was, and if the accident was bad enough to injure the driver.
“It’s a whole different level of depth when it comes to accident understanding,” claimed Nexar cofounder and CEO Eran Shir.
Nexar has been running a private beta test of the app for the past six months with about 200 cars around the Bay Area – mostly with Uber and Lyft drivers. So far, the company has been collecting and analyzing more than 100,000 miles of road per week. Shir said, “We’re already mapping out San Francisco and the Bay Area at a level we think is unprecedented.”
The bigger vision behind the company is creating a network to crowdsource data around road conditions and dangerous drivers. For example, Nexar remembers bad drivers based on their license plate and scores them. If a Nexar user comes across that driver on the road, the app will warn them to steer clear of the car. And Nexar has already begun creating a map of areas around the Bay Area that’s prone to incidents. “We’re trying to build a network, not just an app,” Shir said.
Pretty soon, most new cars will come equipped with sensors and cameras that can map out and detect road conditions. Shir’s planning for that future. He said car makers have started coming to him and asking about incorporating Nexar’s services. “In five years, you’ll start to see different types of car companies emerging,” Shir said. “You’ll have hardware guys, software companies and network companies.”
Nexar was founded by Eran Shir and Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz. The two had met while working together at Yahoo. Shir’s ad optimization startup, Dapper, was acquired by Yahoo in 2010. They founded Nexar last year out of Tel Aviv and have raised a $4 million seed round led by Aleph Venture Capital and Slow Ventures.