An Irish start-up seeking to make accident prevention technology as ubiquitous as seat belts in vehicles has raised $6.2 million (€5.2 million) in a funding round.
Provizio is the brainchild of Limerick man Barry Lunn, whose previous company, radar technology specialist Arralis, was acquired in a $50 million deal three years ago.
Mr Lunn has assembled a team of experts in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and vision-and-radar sensor development to focus on building a five-dimensional sensory vision system. The objective here will be to bring about radical changes in vehicle safety by predicting and preventing accidents in real time and beyond line of sight.
He has also secured the backing of well-known names in the area, such as Seán Mitchell and David Moloney, founders of Movidius, the Irish chipmaker that was acquired by Intel in a $400 million deal in 2016, and Bobby Hambrick, chief executive of Autonomous Stuff, a leader in the automotive sector.
Other backers include the European Innovation Council and Dublin-based Act Venture Capital, both of which previously backed Arralis.
About 1.35 million people are killed every year in road traffic accidents, with more than 20 million injured, according the World Health Organisation. This comes at a cost of more than $2 trillion in the US alone. An estimated 94 per cent of these crashes are caused by human factors and are errors that current accident systems cannot prevent.
Mr Lunn is adamant that Provizio can reduce the number of road deaths.
“We are using unparalleled ‘beyond line-of-sight’ sensor technology coupled with AI to perceive, predict and prevent accidents,” he said.
While much of the focus in terms of prevention of late has been on efforts to introduce driverless vehicles, Mr Lunn says the focus should be on reducing accidents now rather than spending time seeking to remove humans from the equation.
“If you are looking at how to cut road deaths you need to forget about autonomous vehicles and think about the causes of crashes now, which are nearly always down to insufficient vision and foresight,” he said.
While there have been moves to ensure greater road safety over the years, Mr Lunn suggests that most of it has been insufficient.
“An awful lot of the technology that’s been developed has focused on replicating human weakness. So camera systems, for example, usually have the same problems as humans have in that you can’t see beyond the vehicle in front of you when you need to see far beyond this to anticipate problems,” he said.
“Regulatory policy for the last 20 years has focused on making people better drivers and it hasn’t worked,” he added.
Mr Lunn said that automotive manufacturers have tended to zone in on driver comfort rather than safety. These efforts, he contends, have all been about “making the cage nicer, not safer”.
Mr Lunn said Provizio is in talks with all the big car manufacturers and related tier-one industry suppliers. And it is actively working on a commercial product that will go into test vehicles that will run on Irish roads.
Provizio will use the seed funding to add more people to the team and will also be seeking additional financing shortly.
“We’re trying to chip away at something that is absolutely massive and it is obviously an expensive project, so there will definitely be more fundraising undertaken,” he said.