Driver monitoring in China: where can we do the most good?

July 5, 2019

 

There’s a lot of talk these days about China. And as the CEO of an auto industry software provider, I too find myself thinking a lot about China and its emergence as a key market and development hub for smart vehicles.

Every year, roughly 24 million cars and more than four million commercial vehicles are sold in China, making it the world’s largest market for new vehicles. Numbers like that are enough to warrant the attention of any auto industry executive. However, I’m more concerned with a smaller, but arguably much more important number: 700.

That’s the estimated number of people who die every day in China due to traffic accidents – more than 250,000 annually. That’s like having half my hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden disappear each year. Even after adjusting for China’s outsized population, the country’s 18.8 traffic fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants is more than double that of Europe (9.3) and more than four times greater than Japan (4.1).

Making roads safer with eye-tracking

Now China’s roads may not be the world’s most dangerous, but I still find these figures frightening – and unacceptable. So I was thrilled when I learned that Chinese authorities had decided to take action to combat the problem. And when it emerged that one of the first measures would be to promote driver monitoring systems on both new and existing vehicles, I knew our company had a role to play.

Ever since founding Smart Eye 20 years ago, I’ve been motivated by a desire to help make our roads safer by developing and deploying a driver monitoring system (DMS) that relies on eye-tracking technology to reduce the dangers that come with distracted driving.

So far, Smart Eye has focused on working directly with manufacturers to integrate DMSs into new vehicles. Our technology can already be found on 45 new car models at various stages of development. And while this approach remains the primary foundation of our business strategy, I felt we had both a moral and business imperative to consider how Smart Eye could complement its existing approach in order to capitalize on the unique aftermarket opportunity presented by China’s new regulations.

We had to ask ourselves, where could we do the most good?

It quickly became apparent that the answer to that question – both in terms of road safety and Smart Eye’s continued growth – was China. Only by quickly committing additional resources to China could we reap the full benefits of what will no doubt be a limited, but nonetheless massive opportunity to equip potentially tens of millions of vehicles with DMSs – and potentially save tens of thousands of lives.

Smart AI: capturing the opportunity

And so a couple of weeks ago at CES Asia we launched Smart AI, a standalone DMS featuring technology initially developed for European premium car makers that’s been adapted to the China commercial vehicles market.

With Smart AI, Smart Eye is expanding from being primarily a DMS software provider to also being a provider of DMS hardware that meets China’s new regulatory requirements for buses and long-haul trucks.

Quickly adapting to regulatory changes in this huge market with a new product will provide Smart Eye with additional revenue, market penetration, and critical AI learnings that will also strengthen our ability to serve customers in Europe and elsewhere.

There’s no escaping China’s growing importance to the global auto industry – considering the scale of the market as well as planned infrastructure investments, advances in China will likely be faster than more established markets like Europe and the United States.

Saving as many lives as possible

China is also emerging as a hotbed for AI development, with a number of stakeholders expressing an interest in the type of advanced AI solutions that are Smart Eye’s specialty. It’s therefore natural for us to extend our footprint beyond Silicon Valley and compliment it with a strengthened presence in China.

Smart Eye’s further expansion into China doesn’t mean we will lose focus on the European or US market or our continued efforts to work directly with car makers to deliver integrated DMS solutions. They are still critical for our success. Rather, Smart Eye’s additional investment in China and the launch of Smart AI will accelerate DMS adoption to unprecedented levels and at a much faster pace than could be achieved in other markets.

But more importantly, it will help Smart Eye save as many lives as possible as quickly as possible, while at the same time strengthening our ability to save more lives in other parts of the world and create a sustainable business that can help save lives for generations to come.

Martin Krantz is founder and CEO of Smart Eye, a leading eye-tracking technology provider based in Gothenburg, Sweden

Written by: Martin Krantz