Wednesday 04, April 2018 by Jessica Combes

Crashing into the future


Jaco Gerrits, the CEO of South African-based start-up CrashDetech, spoke with Banker Africa about what the company is trying to achieve and what the future holds.

The Automobile Association of South Africa released figures late last year depicting a significant increase in the number of road traffic fatalities year-on-year, recording the highest number of road traffic deaths in the past 10 years. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has noted in its report on road safety that the African continent has among the world’s most dangerous.

CrashDetech, the focus of our Trailblazer this month, is aimed squarely at the issue of traffic fatalities on the streets of South Africa. The company was born out of an idea by its founder and CEO, Jaco Gerrits, around three years ago when he began looking at what additional uses the accelerometer within a smart phone could be used for, beyond its typical application to detect which direction the screen is oriented to.

“I was thinking about the different applications that the sensor could be used for and the idea of detecting vehicle crashes came to me. We then started an investigation around the realities on the roads, not only in South Africa but globally, and we found out that there’s actually a massive social and economic impact,” said Gerrits. “The big idea for this application is to detect a car crash and within seconds dispatch the nearest emergency response vehicle as soon as possible. We’re trying to address two things: first we’re trying to cut down the emergency response time, and secondly also ensure that the person receives the correct medical treatment at the accident scene.”

The app is meant to work by a simple ‘install and forget’ process with users setting up their account on their smartphone once and the app automatically monitoring trips. Once it has detected a car crash it will send the location and additional information to CrashDetech’s emergency medical services (EMS) environment. If the operator is unable to contact the user via a phone call a dispatch vehicle is sent immediately.

From the inception the app posed some serious technical and engineering challenges. Notably the app would need to not only be able to detect crashes but also crucially eliminate false positives—one of the challenges of working within the sensitivity range limitations of smart phone technology. “Being a technology solution there will always be some limitations. There’s a 100 per cent detection rate for serious vehicle crashes, so vehicle crashes that generate a lot of force where you are typically unable to call the emergency call centre yourself. We aren’t positioning the technology as one that’s able to detect smaller vehicle crashes but with bigger vehicle crashes we will have a 100 per cent success rate,” said Gerrits.

In addition, the app also requires that data and location services are enabled on the user’s device, so that the emergency call centre can be notified of the scene of the accident. CrashDetech has partnered with some 110 emergency medical service companies located across South Africa. Gerrits notes that this means that the company provides access to the largest independent national network of emergency personnel and at any given time in South Africa CrashDetech has access to more than 5000 paramedics and a 24/7 emergency call centre to connect with a medically trained agent to give advice during an emergency prior to the arrival of EMS. These partnerships are key to the company in its quest to cut down response times.

As a subscription-based model the company offers several tiers aimed at different price points. Ranging from the free tier, which provides crash alerts for up to 30 trips a month up to Elite at ZAR 99 a month. Additional services that are packaged in include ‘Medical ID’ which allows paramedics to have automatic access to your personal medical information, ‘Lawyer SOS’ a service wherein a criminal lawyer will be dispatched to represent you in person at the scene of the accident and post bail, and ‘Road Secure’ which in the case of a breakdown means an armed security guard will be sent to the user’s location anywhere in South Africa in under 30 minutes.

The company also offers several different insurance products ranging from ZAR 50,000 to ZAR 100,000 aimed at giving access to hospitals, as well as covering death, disability and evacuation cover. “The reason we launched the insurance component was because the majority of South Africans don’t have access to medical aid and the state care is really not up to scratch. We saw a gap in the market for an accidental cover product that’s complemented by our technology element, so we developed it to now ensure that [our users] can get access to private care,” added Gerrits.

The future of the company could lie in the detailed acquisition of telematic data on driver behaviour statistics and use that to create additional products. “Using perpetual awareness, we would be able to have a better understanding of our underwriting risk. We are working on it at the moment but currently we are not collecting data on our users beyond around crash events specifically,” said Gerrits. “I think the key focus of the company is definitely going to be in the big data space and understanding the behaviour of our customers. I think there’s a huge opportunity and, in partnership with other entities, commercialise that data in new and exciting ways!”

As to expansion plans, Gerrits outlined two broad strategies that the company is pursuing. For its B2C (business-to-consumer) model, CrashDetech sells and markets its own subscriptions, an area which still has expansion in South Africa. Outside of South Africa, the model will likely need to be adapted to each individual market’s needs. For instance, crime may not be as big an issue so roadside security might not be as big a value proposition, meaning that CrashDetech will be looking to refine its subscriptions based on which territory it is operating in.

However, the company’s B2B (business-to-business) model is where a significant part of the company’s expansion will take place. “We are actually in negotiation with a number of [other countries]. It’s definitely the plan to licence this technology to insurers, banks, telecommunications companies, etc. We will be looking for key partnerships where we can roll this technology out as far out as far out as possible.”