One for the road: This app will alert you of potholes, help prevent road accidents
In September last year, a video made the rounds of the Internet showing an astronaut taking giant slow-motion leaps on what appeared similar to the surface of the Moon. However, the parody was highlighted soon when an auto rickshaw was seen passing nearby tumbling across the unstructured road filled with potholes. While the video taken by a Bengaluru artist left many netizens in splits, the artist’s unique way of shedding light into the city’s perennial pothole problem was lauded heavily.
Potholes in India cost the lives of almost 3,600 people in India in 2017, according to the response by Mansukh L Mandaviya, former Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, in Parliament in 2018.
These deaths were out of 9423 accidents that year, in which 8792 people suffered grievous injuries such as bone fractures and slip discs. Adding insult to injury, the number of road accidents due to potholes was unfortunately more than the fatalities caused by the terrorist attacks, noted the Supreme Court. “Road conditions inevitably degrade over time and lack of road condition information causes crores of rupees in losses every year,” Dipen Babariya, a recent computer science graduate, who has found a unique way to change this narrative, told ET.com.
Babariya along with his friend Mishal Jariwala and Industrial Engineering expert Nikhil Prasad Maroli are the co-founders of RoadMetrics, a deep tech startup which identifies all types of road defects such as potholes and cracks and alerts users of impending rough conditions and danger zones in real-time and suggest them better routes to their destination. The much-needed heads up
The idea of leveraging technology in solving one of the most pressing and annoying issues in the country, struck two years when Babariya and Jariwala were navigating to their friend’s place using Google Maps. Although Google suggested them an alternate time-saving route, it took them twice the time owing to bad road conditions.
“We then realised the need for a map specific to Indian road conditions,” he said. Initially started as a college project, RoadMetrics expanded its co-founding team after the duo met Maroli, a former Silicon Valley employee. Today, the startup’s software uses images and smartphone sensor data to classify road defects.
The classification is done by algorithms of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The type of road defects includes patches, types of cracks- vertical, horizontal and alligator, and potholes, among others. “We detect 12 types of road defects.
The AI/ML algorithm has been trained with over 100,000 image data points in two different cities, and this has enabled us to achieve a high accuracy rate of over 90%. We also collect sensor data (accelerometer and gyroscope) for further validation and this ensures that our accuracy increases,” Jariwala said. RoadMetrics’ services come in two forms- mobile application and enterprise application.
To use the mobile app (of the same name), you will need to enter your mode of transport, your choice of alerts (voice, vibration or mute), and your destination. Following this, the app will provide you route suggestions based on road conditions and your vehicle. Users will see the good, average, and bad routes, displaying the distance the routes will cover and the time taken.
Understanding the users’ preferences, the app will also send real-time alerts of approaching speed breakers and dangerous road conditions. To make it simpler, the roads in the suggested routes will be color coded according to the severity of their condition. Here, a green road means a smooth ride with no defects; a yellow road is an indication of a rough road with patches and cracks; an orange road is a higher level of rough road which, along with patches and cracks, will be suffering from raveling; and a red road is the worst of all combining raveling, patches, cracks and potholes.
One can also see the signs for manholes and speed breakers on the route. For large businesses, RoadMetrics’s enterprise application has more interesting features. One of these interesting features the firm offers is a drag-and-drop interface for their enterprise customers, where they can see detailed analytics of road conditions such as the percentage amount of roughness of the road or of the potholes.
“While the enterprise app is currently fully functional, the mobile app is currently in beta stage. Our beta app users were shocked by the accuracy of our application and how it is able to predict road conditions at an accuracy of over 90% with zero human intervention. No other application provides such feature in India,” Jariwala claimed.
A seemingly bright future
The Bengaluru-based firm’s ground fleet has, so far, covered more than 1000 kms of roads in the country and is targeting a network of over 10,000 km by 2020 end. The deep tech startup conducted its pilot project with the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC). Jatin Desai, Head Of Road Development (RDD), SMC, told ET.com, “RoadMetrics is doing something that has never been done by anyone in India before.
By using this technology, we can get deep insights about our road infrastructure that can help prioritize out work and save a lot of our tax payers’ money.” Talking about their revenue model, Babariya said, “As a data company, RoadMetrics will provide its services through their mobile and enterprise application as well as their API for private and public companies to be used on top of their application.” He added that monetization through sponsored markings on the mobile app is another stream of revenue.
The firm is targeting 20 million users and dealings with most transportation and private infrastructure firms by 2020 end, clocking estimated revenue of over Rs 2 crore. Bootstrapped through the co-founders’ savings, RoadMetrics recently closed a seed round of Rs 25 lakh with 100X.VC. It was part of the venture capital firm’s Class 01 programme.
RoadMetrics’ team is now devising plans to enter international seas. “There exists a huge market in developing countries, including South East Asia as well as South America. Developed countries can use road data for early stage detection of road condition degradation and the implications of this can be huge,” Jariwala said. He added that the tech firm is also looking forward to implementing LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imaging to enable depth perception and map the complete topography of roads.
While the trio continue to enhance their initiative, certain challenges lie ahead, which the team aims to solve as they move forward. “There exists no readily available training data set for Indian road conditions and RoadMetrics had to mine unique Indian road conditions.
Scaling to all major metros will require operational efforts,” he said.
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