Avneesh Agrawal, a former senior vice president of technology and business at Qualcomm India and South Asia, was always fascinated by self-driving cars and wanted to devise an artificially intelligent safety mechanism for them. After taking a closer look at the streets, he felt that such a platform has a more near-term and a better-suited use for commercial vehicles instead. So began his venture Netradyne in 2015. Recently, the start-up raised $21 million in Series B funding from Reliance Industries (RIL), M12 (Microsoft’s corporate venture arm), and Point72 Ventures.
The company, which has technology innovation centres in San Diego (California) and Bengaluru, plans to use this money for developing Driveri—a vision-based platform that analyses minute-to-minute driving behaviour, 3D mapping to improve transportation data, etc. In an interview with Fortune India, Agrawal, who is also the CEO and founder of Netradyne, talks about the road ahead for the automobile industry’s electronic journey.
How are you trying to revolutionise the technology within the car?
The way I look at it, in any car, there are two major aspects of the technology: one is perception and the other is planning. We have developed the perception part of it. We use it to assist the driver in improving their driving behaviour. If the driver is drowsy, looking away, distracted, or talking on the phone we can alert the driver—like there is a collision warning alert. The 'connected' car in the future is going to be the next big thing. We already work in a connected atmosphere.
What led to this idea?
Initially, we were looking at autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars. But, we slowly felt that technology will take around 15 years to commercialise. We thought about ways to use a similar technology to solve the safety problem right now. That’s our Aha! moment. We thought of solving a real problem. How do we make human-driven cars safer with technology? That’s our current focus.
What are your expectations from the Indian market?
In the future, I expect a gadget like this in every car. You are essentially quantifying risk because you are analysing every single aspect of the driving behaviour. Because you have the ability to alert the driver, you are actually moderating that risk. Economics makes sense for the commercial vehicles right now. However, demand, to some extent, is a challenge right now.
How does it actually work?
It works like a dash cam. This technology is seeing everything that the driver is seeing, experiencing all the forces. Using [an] artificial intelligence (AI) processor, we can actually compute the driving behaviour—what the driving response should be and correlate with the actual driving response. It’s like having an expert coach sitting next to you, evaluating you on every single manoeuvre, and then if you make a mistake, it can either mark it for later or alert the driver right then if it’s really unsafe. Like if there is a really serious incident, the technology will take action, so if there is an accident, there will be auto-braking.
Who are your current customers and what’s your target?
Our clients range from original equipment manufacturers to commercial vehicles, to some of the new economy vehicles. Some of these things are happening in the west already. But in India, we are the only company which actually has such an extensive training for all kinds of objects. We have a manufacturing unit here, we are doing trials in Japan, exporting to the U.S. Union Transport minister Nitin Gadkari recently said that auto-braking will be mandatory by 2020. We think we are far ahead in that sense.