Intertraffic 2022 Award Winner Acusensus was born out of tragedy. The Melbourne-based innovators have their collective hearts set on detecting distracted drivers before it’s too late.
Acusensus is a road safety technology company that looks to solve various road safety challenges through the use of technology. One such challenge has been met head-on and its world-first Heads-Up enforcement solution has been designed to give authorities a tool to drive behavioural change on the road network by enabling them to more easily prosecute illegal mobile phone use at the wheel.
The solution captures high-resolution, prosecutable evidence of people using their mobile phone whilst driving. It operates 24/7 in all weather conditions. The system automatically detects the phone use and autonomously captures photographic evidence and can be provided in the form of fixed enforcement cameras, trailer or vehicle-mounted cameras.
The company’s Global Development Manager, Thomas Day, described the thinking behind Heads-Up.
“It's a hardware and software system that detects illegal driver behavior,” he says, putting it simply. “It started with distracted driving as we realized that using the mobile phone behind the wheel was becoming an increasing problem. Depending on which global market you look at, 10 to 30 per cent of crashes and accidents are caused by a person distracted on the road. Whilst there are so many other areas of road safety that have been improved upon over the years, such as road infrastructure, vehicle design, post-trauma care… the problem that we focus on was one of the largest unaddressed causes of road accidents, injuries and deaths. We looked to find a solution and we're proud that we’ve done that.”
One of the biggest issues in the driver distraction sector over the past few years has been the ability to penetrate through the windscreen and produce usable images in all conditions.
“We've invented and patented a solution to that problem, using our advanced cameras and then artificial intelligence to analyze the vehicle and detect any driver behavior and then pass that on to the authorities,” he adds.
In 2013, a friend of Acusensus Founder and Managing Director Alex Jannink was killed by an impaired and allegedly distracted driver. Jannink decided that he simply had to do something to mitigate the circumstances in which his friend had died – Acusensus was formed in 2018.
“That accident deeply affected him,” explains Day. “He and James worked together in the road safety industry for many years. And he just really wanted to find a solution to what he saw as a growing problem and prevent deaths like James’ from happening in the future.”
While the technology is unquestionable and the ethics behind the company’s existence are exemplary, the issue remains that drivers will try to get away with anything until they can’t get away with it any more. In the case of using their mobile phones while behind the wheel the consequences of such bravado can be tragic, so is it as much a case of trying to change drivers’ mindsets as it is enforcing regulations?
“When we implement the solution around the world, it's in combination with awareness campaigns and public education, alongside enforcement. There is usually a warning period and advisory letters sent to drivers, which, after a period of time, shifts to enforcement.”
“We have also seen great impact on the programs we’re running as well. In the world’s first program in New South Wales, Australia, over a two year period we have seen a five-fold reduction in mobile phone use and 21 per cent reduction in deaths which is a phenomenal result.”
Heads-Up can be implemented in fixed mode affixed to a gantry or in mobile mode aboard a trailer.
“In most markets we apply a mix because obviously a fixed enforcement site is permanent but the mobile solution allows for it to move every three days, every week or every two weeks, whenever they want. Drivers know that if they're driving anywhere on the road network, that they have the potential of being caught behaving illegally. It's that mindset shift that we’re seeing.”
With Acusensus making serious waves in Australia, the company is looking to capitalize on the inroads they have made and expand into further territories – exhibiting at Intertraffic Amsterdam 2022 is but one stop on a brief world tour of potential suitors.
“We're looking to partner and roll out this solution around the world as quickly as possible,” Day confirms, “because every day that passes, people are dying through distracted driving and other illegal behaviour. We have a proven solution that's been rolled out in multiple jurisdictions; it's effective and ready to be implemented. We're looking at a number of markets globally. It's something that we're very passionate about as a team and our mission is to save lives and create societal benefit from that.”
As for the company’s first experience of Intertraffic, Day did not underestimate the added bonus of the reintroduction of human contact.
“It’s been a fantastic show for us and in my role, particularly in the international space, it's been something of a challenge to prove the technology on Zoom. However, we've been fortunate to be able to deploy and do some pilots remotely, without anyone from the team installing anything and doing everything online,” adds Day. “But it's just so great to see so many partners and customers and people more generally that have an interest in the technology… and an interest in saving lives.”