Start-up of the Day: Vialytics quickly registers road conditions

How do self-driving cars handle potholes on the road? As just stay driving ahead or spontaneously around them aren’t an option. You have to take the bull by the horns, that’s what the founders of vialytics were thinking. They designed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map out road conditions. This is how the road authorities can deal with the problems as quickly as possible. Danilo Jovicic, who founded the start-up together with Achim Hoth and Patrick Glaser, explains how the system works.

The founders of vialytics GmbH, (from left to right) Achim Hoth, Patrick Glaser, Danilo Jovicic ©vialytics

How did you come up with the idea of setting up vialytics?

We wanted to do business as an independent company and set up our own start-up. We got to know each other through the Activatr and Pioniergeist start-up programs. It was by coincidence that we then got together in a small group. That’s where the idea of doing something with road management took shape. We came up with a lot of wild ideas for a couple of weeks. We also had a lot of contact with municipalities who told us about problems concerning road management. The overarching issue there was autonomous traffic. We thought carefully about what you need to do in order to be able to drive safely autonomously. That invariably comes down to good roads.

What does your product look like?

Municipalities can continuously monitor their streets with our system. This is done with the help of a modified smartphone mounted on the windscreen of a municipal service vehicle. On a sweeper, for instance. These are at any rate always out and about in the city. The smartphone records the road every 4 meters.

This data is subsequently sent to us. It is then analyzed using an algorithm. Any damage to the road is automatically detected this way. The municipalities get the data back again in the form of a dynamic map. As they are better informed about the condition of the roads, they can react more quickly to any damage. This leads to a more sustainable and efficient way of road management. After all, plenty of municipalities don’t address the maintenance of their streets until it is far too late. Which means that the costs are also much higher. Current systems do not offer a proper solution. Those recordings are actually made with too great a time frame between each other. Nor are they carried out systematically.

Was there a problem you had to resolve first?

It was particularly difficult in the beginning to gain the trust of municipalities. This was mainly due to the fact that municipalities rarely cooperate with start-ups here. We set up 5 pilot projects where our system was tested. Thanks to the positive reactions we received, we have now managed to build up a customer base of 50 municipalities throughout Germany. Currently, we are also in contact with cities in other countries who are interested in our product.

What are you especially proud of?

We are especially proud of our first customers who have dispelled any preconceptions that local councils are a bit stuffy. Some of them were so enthusiastic about our solution that they bought the system before it had even been fully developed. Of course, we are also very proud of our team, which has expanded considerably over the last 6 months. Our employees are busy developing the product on a daily basis.

©vialytics

What does the future of vialytics look like?

Our goal is that of internationalization. We want road authorities all over the world to be able to maintain their road networks in an efficient and sustainable manner. Apart from that, we will continue to work on improving things so that we can keep on responding to the requests of our customers.

What tips do you have for other starters?

Do you have a good idea? Jump into the deep end and dare to make your dreams come true. And for those who have already set up a company: at some stage, take each employee along with you to a client. That’s what you’ll learn the most from.

More articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

Best read: Trial-and-error with self-driving buses

The first presentation of the Alexander Dennis Enviro200 bus back in March already attracted a great deal of interest. Several videos of this autonomous bus were circulated on the internet. It is not the size of a slow moving minibus, but that of a real full-size city bus. The accelerator can be stepped on up to 80 km/h. Yet it was still a trial within a safe environment, without obstacles, on the way to the street where car wash services are located.

The project has since progressed a step further. In Birmingham, the vehicle demonstrated that it can avoid real obstacles and people. The bus has been deemed: “fit for service.” The municipality of Edinburgh where the bus – (in fact there are actually five of them) – will run next year from the Scottish capital to Fife, on the other side of the river Forth. It was the most read story on our website this week.

That’s not all that surprising. Self-driving buses are hip. Projects with these means of transport, most of which are electric, are spreading like wildfire. The USA and Singapore are leading the way, according to a recent KPMG report. But Europe is catching up: Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Tallinn, Helsinki, Drimmelen. These are all places where trials were started this year.

But in the meantime there is also a lot of discussion about the practicality and necessity of these buses which cost several millions. The project in Scotland, for example, is receiving £4.35 million in funding. A project in Berlin that was started in August across a distance of about half a kilometer, together with a few other projects, costs more than €4 million. Are they worth it?

A spokesman for the Berlin public transport company BVG considers ‘the Seemeile Project’ to be a great success. “More than 7,000 passengers have already traveled with it and the residents in the area are happy with it,” says Markus Falkner. The problem is that the 7000 passengers were mostly ‘Schaulustige’  – sightseers who could just as well have walked all the way to the Tegeler See.

We mentioned earlier that this also applies to a similar project in Drimmelen that cost €200,000. This involved around 500 passengers, most of whom were sightseers. A project in Paris that was launched with a lot of fuss in 2017 was discontinued for this very same reason. During the first six months, there were around 30,000 people who were willing to take a ride. After that – when the novelty had faded away – it dropped to less than a thousand per month. They pulled the plug this year in August.

A bus from the Navya company like the one that was driving around Paris

And the costs are not the sole problem. A project in Vienna has shown that. Like other self-driving buses, the vehicles from the French company Navya drove here at a snail’s pace of no more than 12 km/h. Nevertheless, it was still possible to drive into someone. Admittedly, that person was completely irresponsible. Wearing headphones and looking at her mobile phone, she herself drove into the bus. Yet it was enough to put a halt to the project.

Another trial in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, was suspended due to hardware and software problems. It shows the long way to go before affordable and safe autonomous buses are on public roads, and are also of real practical use to people who simply need to travel from A to B.

Is that a reason to stop working on these altogether? Of course not. It will probably take years before self-driving buses become commonplace. But something is learned with each project. The major leap forward when it comes to the buses that will be running in Scotland, is that they are big and fast. There are also many commuters on the road between Fife and Edinburgh. Therefore, they have the potential of serving a functional purpose.

It remains to be seen whether this will work in practice. It is a matter of trial and error for all the scientists, companies and governments involved, says the CEO of Stagecoach, the owner of the buses in Scotland. Ceo Martin Griffiths calls it a great learning process. He emphasizes that this is a pilot. However, if you look at the long term, self-driving buses will play a significant role. There is no doubt about that. For our senior readers: Barrie Stevens would say to candidates in the Dutch Soundmix Show: “Vooral doorgaan!” (‘Keep going!”)