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: Navigate a busy city? Make self-driving cars more aggressive’

Trams, cats, colliding cyclists – they can make it pretty difficult for self-driving cars. Especially in a city like Amsterdam. Carlo van de Weijer, director of the recently opened Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI), thinks that it will never work. Let autonomous vehicles drive through our busy main city? “That can’t be done,” according to Van de Weijer. That’s what came out of our best read article this week.

Still, that all sounds rather set in stone. Ten years ago, nobody would have predicted that we could transform leftovers into decorative edible tidbits with a 3D printer. Is a self-driving car in a city like Amsterdam really so inconceivable?

Just this past summer, a TU Delft research team presented a milestone for self-driving cars in cities. The researchers designed a system that analyses and predicts pedestrian behaviour. “It is a system that covers the entire processing chain, from vehicle perception, situation analysis and planning to control,” said lead researcher Dariu Gavrilla at the time.

At least another 30 years

In other words: a self-steering car that is able to predict whether a pedestrian will stay waiting patiently at a curb, or choose to cross the street. “We are one small step closer to being able to roll out autonomous driving effectively in a busy, urban setting,”,said Gavrilla. Would that mean self-driving cars will be lining the Amsterdam canals? Things won’t go that fast, Gavrilla also believes: “A car that can drive through a city and be as adaptable as a human driver – that’s going to take at least another thirty years,” he told the Dutch broadcast service NOS in August.

So, things will still be a long time coming, although it certainly doesn’t seem inconceivable. That’s how trend-watcher and Tesla driver Vincent Everts views it too. “I already use the autopilot function on 95 % of my trips,” he says. “Especially on the highway, but also in the city if the road is suitable enough.” The only condition is that the roads have to be clear. “I hardly ever use it on inner city streets, but there are no lanes there and things jut out all over the place,” Everts says. “The car is not at all ready for that yet.” But will it be possible someday?

Read moreBest read: Navigate a busy city? Make self-driving cars more aggressive’

‘Ordinary person will never be able to afford their own, fully self-driving car’

Waymo

If in a few decades’ time fully self-driving cars are allowed on public roads on a grand scale, they will almost exclusively be shared cars. This is what Gijs Dubbelman expects will happen. He is head of the research group on mobile perception systems at TU Eindhoven. “The equipment that you will need to install in your car is so expensive that an ordinary citizen won’t be able to afford it.”

People who are able to afford one, are probably the same people who can pay for their own plane or helicopter. Everyone else will have to share a car and request one when they need it. ‘Mobility as a service’, is how Dubbelman terms it.

Expensive equipment

The most expensive parts of the fully self-driving car are the special sensors. The lidar in particular (a laser detection system also known as LADAR). Along with the AI and the computer that has to process all the data. “The cost of a lidar alone can be as much as €50,000,” says Dubbelman. “That’s very expensive. And then you don’t even have a car, you just have a lidar. Lidars are likely to become cheaper in the future. Yet one lidar is not enough, as you need to be able to cover the entire area around a vehicle. More sensors are required in order to be safe in all situations and circumstances.” So that’s why it will stay expensive.

At the ‘AI in engineering’ symposium held by TU/e, Gijs Dubbelman shows an image of what the autonomous test car sees while driving. Photo: Lucette Mascini.

In the future, navigational maps for autonomous cars will also have to drop in price. At present, the production of such maps is still too limited and is usually only intended for relatively small test areas. “You can imagine that this is not cheap.”

The navigation equipment aims to pinpoint the exact location of the car, the roads on which it is driving and the stationary objects in the vicinity. The AI focuses on predicting the behaviour of the people who walk there, as well as animals and other moving objects in the area.

Traffic chaos caused by a snowflake

The British Law Commission announced last week that its research has shown that autonomous vehicles suffer from so-called ‘frozen robot syndrome‘. This means that they are not yet able to discern haphazard, moving objects on the road, such as leaves, plastic bags and even birds and snowflakes. As then they instantly apply the brakes and ‘freeze.’ This can cause chaos on the road. The main concern is when the car already comes to halt because of a snowflake, for example. That the car stops when it doesn’t recognize what’s moving in front of its bumper or windscreen is logical, says Dubbelman. “But you don’t want it to start up again and then run over a child.”

Read more‘Ordinary person will never be able to afford their own, fully self-driving car’

Self-driving cars will never be possible in Amsterdam city center

Anyone who thinks that the self-driving car is the future is wrong. At least when it comes to the chaotic mess in city centers like Amsterdam. These are so cluttered and unpredictable that it would be impossible for autonomous vehicles to anticipate traffic conditions. Which is what Carlo van de Weijer has predicted at the opening of the AI in Engineering symposium. He is director  of the new Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI, pronounced ‘easy’ in English) at TU Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Traffic chaos in the Amsterdam city center is too much for self-driving cars. Photo: Lucette Mascini

Experiment in the US

Van de Weijer worked in the automobile industry for a long time and wanted to answer the question as to why we are still not driving through the country in self-driving cars. The reason is that it is very difficult to make automated vehicles function like a human being. Van de Weijer gave an example of an experiment in the US where a robotic car kept driving on the right lane while a very slow truck was driving on it’s left. A tailgater behind the autonomous car wanted to pass but wasn’t able to.

Read other Innovation Origins columns by Carlo van de Weijer here.

Read moreSelf-driving cars will never be possible in Amsterdam city center