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The Rise of AI in Automotive: Interview with 4Pilots

Interview by Robert Plumtree, Senior Technology Consultant at X4 Technology.

Artificial intelligence leads many of the most innovative areas of the automotive industry. As today’s vehicle becomes more and more complicated to design and build, AI is working behind the scenes to provide a productivity boost, streamlining design and manufacturing elements associated with the sector.

We spoke to Hannes Glaser, co-founder & CMO of 4Pilots, a Germany based start-up that are building a non-invasive AI-powered In-Cabin-Sensing System. They help low and medium-income countries to reduce traffic accidents and create awareness of the importance of safe driving.

Who are 4Pilots?

At 4Pilots we’re developing safety technology to retrofit or upgrade existing vehicles. We have a driver monitoring system that detects behaviour and correlates it with risk assessment so we can give real-time responses to the driver before situations.

We further analyse the data to give individualised tips to the driver and to the fleet manager we give an overview of how their drivers are behaving and how safe they are on the road. We give them a safety score so that the customers of these fleets can see the statistics of the safety of their cargo with the drivers.

How did you know when the moment was right to dedicate your time to 4Pilots?

In the beginning, it was quite overwhelming, as within a start-up your whole life centres around the company. Since I was still at university, I questioned whether I could commit to the venture full time, but it all changed when our third co-founder joined and we started to see results, such as our first software demo.

It was gradual, but I realised this is what I want to put my time and focus into. The great thing about founding a start-up, is that when I wake up in the morning it’s fulfilling to know that I get to do what I really like, and I care about the work.

What has been your biggest market so far at 4Pilots?

Our main market right now is developing countries because we’ve seen that luxury cars have lots of safety features, whereas older vehicles do not. Our response is to retrofit the older vehicles and bring them state-of-the-art technology on a low-cost hardware to help them to be better drivers and try to make traffic safer in these countries.

Long-distance journeys are one of the main areas we are targeting. For example, in India, they are trying to improve traffic safety through the passing of regulations that mandate every car to have tracked GPS. In Germany, drivers are not allowed to be on the road for more than 10 hours, but in India, many drivers have monetary pressure to drive for longer durations than this. We have to build a system that supports long-distance drivers in developing countries to ensure that they don’t fall asleep or resort to alcohol as a coping mechanism. We want to be an assistant to the driver and help them out as much as possible.

How does the software notify the driver in real-time?

There are two ways for a real-time notification. The first is a sound response; used if the driver is drowsy or rage driving. The second is one of our recent tests to see if an emission of light can have a calming effect on the driver. The analysed data is then sent to the fleet manager, and training tips are communicated through our mobile phone app.

Would you call AI-powered in-cabin-Sensing systems a “high-tech Big Brother” in your car?

I can see how it can look that way to some people as we are analysing the driver and producing data from this. However, we are not sending any video data to the fleet manager, instead, we’re giving a real-time response to them. We want to understand the kind of behaviour that leads to dangerous situations, so it is more accurate to compare it to a “high-tech co-driver”.

Would you say that this is one of the biggest AI advancements in automotive technology?

I think in-cabin sensing is one of the biggest developments because we won’t have fully autonomous cars for the next 10 or more years. Yet, when it comes to the question of comfort, your car can automatically adjust to the settings you like, and all of these things have a positive impact on the mindset of the driver. I think that in-cabin sensing is one of the biggest advancements as it is going to get us to the goal of zero accidents and help to prevent the yearly statistic of 1.4 million deaths from traffic accidents.

What are the biggest challenges for a young start-up in this space? 

The biggest challenge for us is to improve our software so it is going in the same direction as companies such as Tesla. Some of the biggest companies have been in the space for 15 to 20 years, so I think our biggest challenge is to prove that on the software side we can compete.

Do you have a clear vision of how you are going to grow your team?

As a young start-up, we’re outsourcing at the moment, with each of our co-founders having their own areas of expertise. On the software side, all of us have strong connections to our universities so we got the chance to work with their teams. We then get the support of 10 to 15 people on different topics, but also international experience which makes development faster. As we start to grow our core team, the first hires will be on the software side and then shortly after we will hire a sales and customer support team in India.

We are planning to have a pilot project by the last quarter of this year and the first sold products to the customer starting in the first quarter of 2022.

What are you most optimistic about right now?

Long term, I’m optimistic about the chance to grow 4Pilots. Having started conversations with government officials, we have seen the possibility of having mandatory laws for these safety systems on the horizon. Short-term, I’m optimistic that we will find a great investor and with market entry at the beginning of next year, it will position our company firmly within the automotive industry.

What’s one thing you think more people should know?

In Europe, traffic safety is a privilege – you don’t fear arriving safely at a destination. In comparison, developing countries have only 60% of the world’s cars, but have more than 93% of all traffic accidents.

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