Japan’s SmartDrive, car telematics startup, nabs $9M series B to ramp up big data analysis


See the original story in Japanese.

Japan’s Smart Drive, offering the DriveOps vehicle management platform utilizing big data, announced last week that it has fundraised a total of 1 billion yen (about $9.0 million) in its series B round. The details as to the pay-in date or investors were undisclosed but investor names will be made available in accordance with the announcement of business partnerships.

Coincidentally, the firm revealed that it has been developing a drive recorder app for smartphones. This app can detect crucial moments related to dangerous driving or traffic accidents from an enormous amount of video data inside / outside of commercial vehicles, shot using mounted cameras for big data analysis use, and acquire video images for several seconds before and after the incident, to support easy search. The firm is to launch this app around summer, and will enable more accurate real-time video analysis / search service regarding driving.

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Resulting from big data analysis for 10,000 vehicles

It was February of 2014 that I heard the concept of Smart Drive or vehicular big data from the current CEO Retsu Kitagawa who had been studying traffic-related big data analysis at his university then. His attractive story made me imagine the future of its service which was under stealth development.

On the other hand, it had been still unclear what kind of effect would be produced from the vehicle data acquired via the OBD-II port (conventionally used for maintenance) and what type of business this technology would lead to. Over three years since then, the firm kept acquiring and analyzing detailed vehicle data, such as stop-and-go, steering angle, speed or distance from 10,000 vehicles and eventually reached conclusive results. For example, it can roughly predict how much fuel efficiency there is for a certain driving style by using these analyzed data.

Noteworthy is the fact that “driving style” can be defined even with rough information.

Smart Drive had been conventionally acquiring vehicle behavior data mainly from the maintenance port. With this method, accurate data can be obtained but there is a risk in terms of security that vehicles could be hacked remotely. Of course, it was not welcomed by vehicle manufacturers. However, as an environment to determine vehicle behavior by Smart Drive was improved, a high-accuracy analysis of driving situation such as whether a vehicle turned or not became available even with data acquired from sensors in smartphones.

Thus, the coverage range of vehicle type for driving analysis expanded significantly. That is, a chance for the firm to expand its business had increased as well. The unusage of the OBD-II port may be one of the biggest factors that the firm succeeded in partnership with multiple companies and in realization of the large-scale funding this time. The service has gradually been introduced into telematic usage-based insurance products under tie-up with Axa General Insurance in Japan or in driving situation management of delivery trucks for major chain convenience stores.

According to Kitagawa, the Smart Drive team takes on the service development with 30 members and plans to enhance this human resource by taking on more engineers specialized in analysis or big data processing while paying close attention to the video image analysis service which is scheduled for launch this summer.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy