Navigation was once the realm of adventurers and explorers. Voyagers on the high seas relied on the stars. Elite soldiers memorized topographic maps to reach their destination. In either scenario mistakes led to disaster.
In the 1950s, mankind began launching satellites into space -- and navigation was forever changed. The information streamed from the satellites first served militaries until the consumer stage when ordinary people were offered accurate location data.
There are currently more than a hundred navigation apps to allow a smartphone user to safely travel from point A to point B -- and even avoid traffic on the way, which makes it all the more surprising that drivers use navigation assistance for less than 5% of road miles across the globe.
Israeli startup Cellepathy was founded in 2011 and launched a technology to avert accidents caused by distracted driving. The company now aspires to initiate the next revolution in navigation.
"We have a new idea that no one else is working on," says Sean Ir, co-founder and VP Marketing.
Cellepathy, led by founder and CEO Dan Abramson, hopes to integrate personalization into the navigation process. At first, the idea seems odd: if two people need to get from point A to point B at the same time, they should have the same directions.
"Personalization has become a huge trend in several industries, not only e-commerce and media," says Ir, "When you go to Amazon, CNN, or Facebook, the content is different than what is presented to another user."
The explanation is straightforward: the website analyzes the personal browsing history and presents each user with content according to their preferences, offering a better experience and increasing profits.
"Today almost everything is personalized but navigation remains generic. One of the few examples of it in this sphere is the option in Waze to define a home and work address."
Naturally, not everyone lives and works in the same place.
Ir: "Right. Let's look at what happens when you turn on a navigation app. You ask it to take you from point A to point B. You get back a map and a list of turns. Once you start driving, the app alerts you to upcoming turns several times. But there are some turns that are more important than others. If you're driving in a neighborhood and miss a street, it's an easy fix; but, if you're driving on the highway and miss the exit, then you may have to drive another fifteen minutes or more before you can return to the original route.
"But there's more. The significance of each turn, each alert, is different for each driver depending on their habits. If you're driving to work from your home, you're unlikely to miss the important onramp. But someone who rarely comes into town is more likely to make a mistake along the way."
How is this related to personalization?
"When you know for each person which notifications are more important than others you can change how they are delivered to provide a more natural experience. To use the previous example, when you're driving from home, you don't need a lot of direction from the navigation app -- you might only want to know if one route is faster than another today. A different driver, who doesn't know the way as well, will need more guidance.
"Our concept is very simple, but no one thought of it. When I get into the car, I want to listen to music, talk on the phone, or think quietly. I don't want some blabbering robot to yell at me information I already know, but I do want it to highlight information that actually matters.
"In most cases, drivers know how to reach their destination, and they even know alternative routes, but they don't know the optimal path at that moment in time. So currently people have to guess whether it is worth the hassle of turning on a navigation system like Waze to help. One day you use it, and the next you don't. Maybe you only turn it on for part of the ride, or turn it off in the last ten minutes. At Cellepathy, we see that as a problem.
"We developed a product called Ergo. It is an artificial intelligence mechanism that learns the history of each driver and what information they would want. Navigation systems which use Ergo can decrease the frequency of unnecessary notifications and stress the alerts that matter. Occasionally there is an alert so important that Ergo bring up the app even if it was closed."
In your own neighborhood there could be an accident or a road closure.
"Our solution assumes that you wake up each morning and go to work, meaning the app only needs to interact with you once. When you enter the vehicle it should say: 'Good morning, Idan, are you on your way to work?' And you say yes. Then it shuts up. On a normal day, it tells you nothing. If there is something unexpected, then the application can suggest an alternative route and maybe send a reminder when you come close to a turn you rarely use.
"That's a revolutionary concept. You need to consider the history of navigation. Twenty years ago, people used GPS to reach unknown destinations. They would use it every two or three months.
"Eight years ago, Waze entered the picture. Dan and I were one of their first users. From the start, Waze promised to save you on average five minutes a day, but only if you use the app each time you drive. They needed data and they couldn't deliver ads when the app was offline.
"When there is updated information regarding traffic conditions, it provides a reason to use navigation even if you're driving to familiar destinations. Real-time traffic data changed the game, but the user experience has not caught up. It's still stuck in the days you drove to places you've never been.
"We're essentially developing the next innovation. This is the most significant step forward in navigation in the last eight years, since Waze. In Israel, drivers often use Waze, more than 10% or 20% of their time in the car. It's a lot and it's not common around the world.
"In the US, for example, drivers use navigation apps at a rate of 1%-5% of their driving distance. It was a mystery to us -- we wanted to understand why the use rates were so low despite the clear value provided by the apps. With the help of a market research firm, we discovered the culprit. The leading cause -- cited by 45% of participants -- was the annoying voice commands. We discovered the biggest nuisance and found a solution.
"In the past, users turned their GPS on every three months, today they use it a few times a week, and after Ergo is integrated people will enjoy the aid of a virtual assistance for the road. On each drive, for every destination. It will be the next big leap."
"We offer another layer"
The navigation sector is saturated and competitive. What chance do you have of fitting in?
"We aren't offering a new app. We have no intention of competing with Apple or Google. There are more than a hundred navigation apps in the world, but most of the usage is through the built-in GPS in the car. It's important to realize how the industry works. Take for example the maps in your iPhone -- Apple doesn't make them, it buys them from TomTom. The navigation sphere has turned in recent years into a commodity market -- everyone is offering the same service but no one can charge extra for their product.
"There are four or five big companies selling maps. Three or four sell traffic data. There are a few companies that sell algorithms that analyze the maps and the traffic data and calculate the most efficient way from point A to point B. Navigation is a layered product. Almost no one builds one from top to bottom. Everyone buys layers. Even the voice commands come from a text-to-speech company like Nuance (which provides the technology for Siri). We are essentially offering another, newer layer."
It is too early to tell if Cellepathy will ring in the revolution, but it has drawn attention. In February the company, with a small staff of 11, won an automotive app contest, ConnecteDriver 2016.
"Drivers are constantly making decisions about their navigation apps. When to turn it on, when to shut it down, when to silence it, and when to increase its volume. Ergo does all of that automatically using artificial intelligence and pattern identification," says Cellepathy CEO Dan Abramson. The company was recently accepted into the Dreamit accelerator to speed up its rollout.
Have you started selling the product?
Ir: "We are currently working with mid-range players in the navigation space to improve Ergo and reach one of the leaders in either mobile or the auto sector."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 27, 2016
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