Glance down almost any major street in any major city in Asia and you’ll notice one striking commonality – motorbikes, everywhere. Motorcycles serve as the main mode of transportation for over 400 million people in Asia. A significant number when you consider there are only 50 million riders in the rest of the world. Motorcycles are still the most dangerous mode of road travel despite many governments mandating the use of helmets. The risk of death for motorcyclists is 20 times higher than car occupants.
Motorcyclists clad in rainjackets and ponchos ride to work in Taipei (SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
Knowing this you’d think most people would be insured to protect against accidents, but you’d be wrong. In developing countries, where mopeds and scooters are prevalent, insurance is cost prohibitive. That’s why Taiwan-based company Jarvish is busy building smart helmets, which they believe will transform the global insurance industry and help motorcyclists get better pricing.
Smart Helmet Uses Sensors to Monitor Rider Behavior
The software company installs sensors inside motorcycle helmets to measure user behavior. The smart helmets can track speed, how hard the rider brakes, how tight they turn corners, when and where they travel, as well as external factors such as traffic conditions. “If we can monitor the rider and understand the behavior, we can evaluate the risk,” explains Jarvish co-founder and chief technology officer, Younger Liang. “If you can rank the risk, you can score accordingly to give the user a different pricing proposal.” He says studies show if the user understands the benefit of the system, which is to save money, they will change their behavior, leading to safer driving. “The rider is benchmarked against him or herself.”
Smart sensors detect rider behavior
Current insurance models have remained largely unchanged and “been in existence for over 50 years,” says Liang. They issue contracts on the basis of age, gender, the horsepower of the motorbike, as well as riding history based on previous claims, and location. The younger you are, the higher the premium. Data from The World Health Organization show road accidents as the number one cause of death among those aged 15 to 29. And three out of four of those deaths are male. According to the statistics, if you’re female, you’re considered more risk averse to insurers. Heavier bikes make for more dollar signs, and you get penalized for living in congested urban cities.
The New Age of Tailored Insurance Using Machine Learning
But this age-old pricing model is on the verge of change. “Technologies that use data about the driver and AI [artificial intelligence] to better calculate the risks associated with the person are emerging,” said Jing Wu, a partner at Qiming Ventures who has over a decade of experience investing in fintech, and is now looking to break into the data-led insurtech space. Insurance technology is the latest VC darling to emerge on the scene, with funding volume climbing 248% during the second quarter this year, according to risk management firm Willis Tower Watson. “Together data and technology should help insurance company’s better price their products,” said Wu.
IOT wearable provides hands free connectivity, video streaming, and proactive safety features
The smart helmet maker says what they are in the process of rolling out has been a proven model in the U.S. Liang points to a company called MetroMile based in San Francisco that advocates a pay-per-mile model, saving money for low-mileage drivers on car insurance. Traditional insurers won’t offer a discount for people who are on the road less, but new entrants looking to gain market share will. Through an on-board diagnostic device, data is collected on the status of the car. “Although with less than 20% market penetration, the technology is emerging,” said Liang. But that is for four-wheel vehicles and “there isn’t a similar interface for two-wheels.”
In China alone, consulting firm Oliver Wyman estimates innovative insurance products and connected ecosystems will present insurers with the opportunity to grow premium revenues tenfold, amounting to $60 billion by 2020. The country’s first digital insurance company Zhong An says they are not only exploring user based insurance products, but applying big data to achieve more accurate service to customers. In an effort to combine new technologies with motor insurance, the Tencent and Alibaba-backed insurer plans to launch a big data lab during the third quarter this year.
Motorcyclists ride alongside cars and buses at rush hour on a street in downtown Hanoi (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Jarvish Finds Backers Through Crowdfunding Platform
Jarvish isn’t the first to try to crack the motorcycle helmet code. Skully, a high profile U.S. startup, which raised a combined $14 billion in funding through Intel and crowdfunding, crashed and burned last year. The promising wearables maker left 3,000 backers who pre-ordered helmets empty-handed. Jarvish found financial backing in a similar fashion through FlyingV, the largest crowdfunding program in Asia. However, the Taiwanese firm delivered their first 1,000 units in February. The startup is now capturing data from these early adopters and evaluating feedback to improve the product before mass producing. The final product will retail for about $900 a piece.
Scenario of rider's view from the visor
Jarvish manufactures its electronic components out of Foxconn’s factory based in Vietnam. They then ship to various locations for assembly to meet local helmet regulations, which is different in each country. Jarvish currently has partners in electronics maker Panasonic in Japan and automotive technology firm FICOSA in Barcelona.
Augmented Reality Features in Development
Current approved features include a voice command Bluetooth entertainment system linked to drivers' smartphones; audio navigation to help keep riders focused on the road; and, a preinstalled camera for event recording. The footage captured could be used as evidence in incident reports to help reconstruct accidents.
The young company believes monitoring behavior alone has limited benefits. They’re currently exploring ways of integrating augmented reality technology into helmet visors, which would allow for hands-free navigation and road condition alerts...much like the technology displayed in the popular 2002 sci-fi film, Minority Report. However, at the moment there’s a lack of legal parameters for such technology. “There’s no way for us to certify the product,” Liang says. Nonetheless, Jarvish is working with its local partners to push policy forward. “The ultimate goal is to reduce the risk of an incident happening.”