Zendrive raises $37 million to encourage good driving behaviors with AI

Why should defensive drivers settle for roughly the same monthly insurance premiums as their less responsible, more aggressive peers? That niggling question motivated Google and Facebook veteran Jonathan Matus to found Zendrive, a service that collects data about driving habits and awards drivers for making safe decisions. It’s been chugging along since 2013, the year the San Francisco startup quietly emerged from stealth. But now, Zendrive is gearing up for growth with an influx of capital from enthusiastic backers, some of whom are new.

Zendrive today revealed that it’s raised $37 million in series B funding led by XL Innovate, with participation by Hearst Ventures, BMW iVentures, ACME Capital, NYCA, SignalFire, and others. The fresh cash brings the company’s total raised to nearly $60 million following a $13.5 million series A in February 2016, which Matus says will enable Zendrive to accelerate its product development and hiring efforts.

One product that’ll benefit is FullStop, which formally launches today for select partners. Zendrive describes it as a “mobile-powered risk solution” for stop sign violations, and the company says it’s already shown in limited tests that drivers who violate one stop sign per month are up to 5.8 times more likely to crash than those who don’t.

“Zendrive was founded to make roads safe with data and analytics,” said Matus. “We continue to push the innovation curve in the field forward- and we’re here to partner with anyone that is committed, like us, to improve driving behavior with technology and incentives.”

Zendrive

Above: Zendrive Coaching, one of Zendrive’s many predictive services.

Image Credit: Zendrive

Zendrive’s app-based solutions enable insurers, mobile carriers, and fleet operators to reinforce best practices and reward drivers for adhering to basic road rules. Its DriveDetect tool automatically flips on family safety features or switches to low-distraction dashboards during driving, while DriveReveal highlights habits and risk factors that might become problematic down the line. Meanwhile, FuelSip suggests driving techniques that might save fuel or cut down on energy usage, and WreckDetect helps notify loved ones and emergency responders in the event of a serious accident.

Zendrive collects the bulk of the behavioral data that inform its predictive algorithms from drivers’ smartphones — specifically those smartphones’ accelerometers, GPS, and gyroscopes. It’s able to detect events with remarkable precision, like when an elderly person begins driving in the rain or when a driver might be distracted and driving aggressively. Moreover, thanks to insights derived from over 180 billion miles of historical data, it can automate coaching for budding drivers and log mileage for expense reports, or set eco-friendly driving goals.

Zendrive points to a study conducted by the University of Illinois, which found that phone sensor measurements were as accurate (and in some cases more accurate) than hardware-based onboard diagnostic solutions for 13 out of 14 driving risk factors, including sharp acceleration and hard braking. (Zendrive claims its algorithms are six times more predictive of risk than the industry baseline.) And the company says that in tests at BMW’s crash test lab, its collision detection algorithms for iOS had 100% accuracy for crashes from 30 miles per hour and above and could tell whether users’ phones were in a mount, a pocket, or cup holder.

Zendrive’s customers include ride-sharing network HopSkipDrive, gas station locator app Gasbuddy, and fuel delivery startup Booster. It says that in GasBuddy’s case, its AI and machine learning algorithms helped users boost fuel efficiency by up to 40%.

Zendrive occupies a lucrative phone-based driver safety program segment that’s anticipated to be worth nearly $30 billion by 2022, according to a recent report published by research firm Ovum. It competes indirectly with well-funded startups like Root Insurance, which calculates car insurance premiums based on driver behavior, and Avinew, which rewards customers for using autonomous safety features.

So far, the competition hasn’t scared away investors like Sandy Weill, the former chairman of Citigroup and onetime CEO of American Express’ insurance arm, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company.

“The increasing adoption of data and analytics is a trend that is shaping the future of insurance,” said Weill, who plans to join Zendrive’s board of advisors. “The Zendrive team is focused on delivering value to insurance companies, platform providers, and ultimately consumers, which could result in better priced business, and safer roads for everyone. I am excited to be part of this revolution in the industry.”

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