Established automakers showcased a range of cutting edge technologies on the showroom floor in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, using concept cars, advanced visualizations, and high production videos to promote their visions of the future of transportation. But innovation in the sector was also on display at the Pitch Competition in the Sands Convention Center, where 10 startups presented their ideas before a panel of five judges, in an event hosted by Techstars.
Across the ten participants, four of the companies presented products with implications for human-vehicle interactions, with applications for connected cars and vehicle safety.
Techstars describes itself as a mentorship-driven startup accelerator. Companies accepted into its program receive $100,000 in funding, attend a 90-day mentorship seminar, are given three months of office space and living expenses, and are connected with the company’s network of investors and other entrepreneurs. The pitches were judged by a panel including a number of Techstars staff, as well as principals from Magna International, Fontinalis Partners, and Verizon Ventures. Each pitch was 60 seconds long followed by a brief question and answer session with the judges.
Across the ten participants, four of the companies presented products with implications for human-vehicle interactions, with applications for connected cars and vehicle safety. Vigo, for example, seeks to resolve the issue of drowsy driving. Vigo is a headset that uses sensor technology to read a driver’s eye movements and anticipate when they are tired and their driving ability may be impaired. When Vigo senses that the driver is dozing off, it uses a noise or vibration to awaken the driver, and bring their attention back to the road. Vigo is also working with automakers to incorporate its “sleepiness-detection” technology into new vehicles, while the headset can be used in any car, new or old.
Taking things a step further, SmartWheel is a steering wheel cover that detects and prevents distracted driving. Company CEO Tristian Evarts noted that 400,000 people are injured every year by distracted driving, and 3,200 people die. Teens are particularly vulnerable, because they are distracted roughly one-quarter of the time they are behind the wheel. According to Evarts, there are competing products that can report on if a driver was distracted when an accident occurred, but since these reports are presented after the fact, these technologies don’t save lives.
SmartWheel detects certain hand positions and motions that suggest that drivers are texting or otherwise occupied, and draws the driver’s attention back to the road with an audio alert. The primary customers would be parents of teen drivers, and fleet managers looking to increase safety. The company plans to sell the product for $200, and sees potential future uses in connected cars, without specifying what those applications would be.
Also in the interest of saving lives, Ryan Shearman of Fusar revealed his company’s “smart helmet,” which can not only anticipate when the wearer is about to be involved in a crash and provides increased protection, but also alerts emergency responders with a GPS location, and sends a message to the wearer’s immediately family. Fusar hopes to tap into the 5 million motorcycle helmets sold every year in the United States.
Following the vein of safety and navigation, Hudway presented a product that connects to your cell phone and projects navigation and other information directly onto the windshield of the car to save motorists the hassle of fumbling with their smartphones while driving. The Hudway glass product will retail for around $70, and because of its ability to interface with phones, is designed to eventually serve as a platform for vehicle to vehicle communication.
Only one product had significant implications for alternative transportation and energy demand. My Open Road is an app that is designed to track user behavior and encourage people not to drive.
My Open Road is a social energy conservation app that rewards users for using alternative transportation instead of their cars.
CEO Jeff Weiss argued, “Many universities and companies are struggling to manage sustainable transportation, because they cannot encourage students or employees to use alternatives to driving. My Open Road is a social energy conservation app that rewards users for using alternative transportation instead of their cars. They get a social responsibility score when they demonstrate that they are saving energy, which gets them freebies and discounts at restaurants and other retailers.”
The other pitches covered a huge range of territory. The first to present was Richard Rogers of GoSend, a logistics company that enables U.S. retailers to expand internationally by helping to deliver their goods to customers around the world, “leveling the playing field” and enabling American companies “to expand worldwide,” noting that only 1 percent of U.S. retailers sell internationally, while there are 800 million foreign customers who seek to purchase goods from American brands. The company has 2,000 customers after publicly launching just last month.
Pivoting dramatically, the next presenter was Adam Majewski of Kymera Body Boards, an electrically propelled bodyboard that can travel at 20 miles per hour and offers about one hour of battery life. Majewski noted that new EPA regulations are banning use of jetskis on some lakes and rivers, which is likely to dampen demand for jetskis, 70,000 of which are sold annually. The body board will retail for around $3,000, and Kymera has 20,000 orders so far, but needs funding to begin manufacturing. They are also seeking a partner to help them obtain lithium-ion batteries.
One of the final presenters, Expert Teleportation, uses specialized connected glasses to serve as a next-generation alternative to Skype or Google Hangouts. CEO Mark Bagur said, “Through our technology, glasses on the ground connect the field to the office, so the office can see what is happening and immediately supervise the operation in the field.” The technology is aimed at maintenance industry and equipment experts who often require technical assistance for field work.
The final presentation was by Walid Moneimne of Aspenta, a telecom company that provides tracking devices equipped with embedded sim cards. Their product, about the size of a credit card, can be placed in something on the move like a car or package, or held by a person, allowing precise tracking worldwide. One of their devices costs $100, which includes a $3 monthly fee for the first 12 months of use.
First place went to SmartWheel, the steering wheel cover that prevents distracted driving. The company’s prize was $120,000 in credit for Microsoft Cloud Services, and other business services.