As it often happens in the entrepreneurial world, a group of like-minded friends—Krishna Jasti, Rajashree Jasti, Dhushyanth Dachiraju and Anirudh Injeti—came together to found a startup. Friends since their engineering days, the young professionals quit their corporate careers and founded Eyedentify in 2016 in their hometown of Hyderabad. The trigger to embrace the entrepreneurial life was born with the intention to solve a common problem the co-founders had identified.
“The biggest problem we identified back then was the rise in in-vehicle incidents reported due to the rapid expansion of cab aggregators. Vehicle-related injuries and deaths due to human error or intention were frequently in the news,” says Krishna Jasti, CPO, Eyedentify. “We wanted to create solutions that help enhance the safety of vehicle occupants and drivers.”
The name Eyedentify was chosen for the startup as Krishna and his team sought to create innovative computer-vision-led solutions to enable the safety of drivers and prevent vehicles from being involved in potential accidents. Eyedentify’s Driver Monitoring & Alerting System or DMAS detects deviations by using computer vision and creates alerts in real-time to help drivers be attentive on the road. The technology accurately detects incidents such as a driver’s drowsiness, distraction and over-speeding in real-time.
The co-founders of Eyedentify felt the need for creating a driver monitoring and alerting system due to the high incidence of road accidents across passenger vehicle, commercial vehicle, mining and inter-city bus segments. Such accidents usually result in a huge monetary loss for fleet operators and require them to ensure the safety of their drivers who might be driving under less-than-optimal conditions due to reasons such as fatigue, multiple distractions, intoxication, an aggravated state of mind, among others.
According to the startup’s research findings, ‘distracted driving’ results from situations such as, visual distraction, physical distraction, cognitive distraction and auditory distraction. Such situations take the driver’s attention away from the road, thereby, compromising not just their lives, but also that of the pedestrians who may be in the vicinity of the vehicle.
How the technology works
Eyedentify’s solutions perform video analytics on the edge to detect and alert for deviations in various applications, include driver monitoring, face-based access, object detection and classification, and license plate recognition
Eyedentify’s DMAS is an advanced camera-based solution that leverages AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning to ensure that proper and safe driving behaviour practices are followed for the duration of the trip. The solution uses a driver-facing camera inside the vehicle to continuously monitor the driver’s eye movements, face posture and behaviour. It also analyses and detects any unsafe driving patterns in real-time and provides auditory signals to correct them. The solution achieves a high level of accuracy in various lighting conditions and for different driver profiles to detect potential unsafe driving patterns.
Video evidence extracts of the events are categorized and uploaded to the cloud for generating driving behaviour patterns and reports. These reports can further be used by driving coaches and fleet managers to work with drivers for improving their driving behaviour.
Eyedentify sells the hardware to its clients at a one-time price. It offers an annual subscription-based model for its web dashboard and mobile app access that provide video evidence, driver-related data and a driving score for every journey undertaken by a driver.
The building blocks
Eyedentify’s founding team decided to bootstrap the company with their personal savings for the first three years. The startup also received a Government of India grant through Nidhi Prayas, which helped the company stabilize its operations in its early days. The company received its first funding in August 2019 when a pre-seed investment round from the Australia-based VC fund Artesian Venture Capital was raised.
Since its inception, Eyedentify’s customer acquisition strategy has entailed identifying the core target segments and filtering companies within that segment based on their potential interest in making their fleets safer and more efficient through DMAS. Eyedentify’s co-founders also regularly reach out to prospective clients on the internet and in various trade forums such as the ‘Connected Vehicle 2019’.
Currently, Eyedentify has onboarded eight companies and institutions as clients. The startup has deployed over 800 devices across Maruti Suzuki, which is in the pilot stage of its customer acquisition strategy.
To ramp up its marketing efforts, Eyedentify started leveraging social media from early 2018 when the company realised that the thrust should be on outreach initiatives.
Speed bumps along the way
The company has had its fair share of challenges since its inception. According to Krishna, one of the key challenges has been in selling the hardware solution that is a relatively new concept in the Indian market. The startup has also struggled to convince drivers of inter-city passenger buses about the benefits of using their advanced camera-based solution despite its ‘intrusive’ feature that has the camera pointing at their face. Drivers employed in fleet transportation services have resisted the technology as they felt it would get them into trouble for minor violations.
“During our initial deployments of driver monitoring systems, we had several cases where vehicle drivers started covering the camera,” recalls Krishna. “While technologically we were able to detect such scenarios, there was very little we could do to prevent it on ground.”
A key turning point
One of the turning points for the company came when the driver of one of the vehicles that had installed Eyedentify’s DMAS solution met with an accident on the Bangalore-Chennai highway. Critical data evidence gathered from the video analytics helped establish the fact that the driver was not at fault—and this saved his job. “We took this as a case study to explain to other drivers about the benefits of using our solution. This approach not only eliminated the camera obstruction problems across our deployments, but also had other drivers asking their management to install our solution,” says Krishna.
A key learning for the cofounders from this episode was to start working closely with vehicle drivers—the actual users of the product. “This policy is now embedded into our company strategy, across our range of products,” says Krishna.
The value addition of T-Hub
Eyedentify has been an integral part of the third cohort of T-Hub’s Lab32 program. Krishna acknowledges the multiple benefits that have accrued from the startup’s association with the greatest enabler in the Indian innovation ecosystem. “T-Hub provides great value for startups as they are a well-rounded ecosystem. Apart from the mentoring and guidance, they also help in providing relevant connects and in identifying new opportunities,” he says. “Incubation, crucial cross-industry connects, and fundraising opportunities are some of the other benefits we have taken advantage of through this association. T-Hub has given us a lot of credibility within the industry and with customers.”
Lessons in entrepreneurship
The co-founders of Eyedentify have come out stronger from some harsh lessons gained in entrepreneurship. When the company was founded, an initial product developed by the team didn’t meet market expectations, primarily due to its high cost posing as an impediment to gaining traction. Further analysis helped them realise that the product had more features than were needed by the target market at the time of its launch. “This episode set us back a lot in terms of time, money and effort,” recalls Krishna. “However, it was an important lesson for us as entrepreneurs.”
From then on, the founding team has focused its efforts on fine-tuning the product development cycle by understanding key customer-related metrics (target industry, target segment, need/ want etc.) as well as the unique specifications of each product (features, price etc.) “Validation needs to be done diligently and even before beginning the development of a product,” explains Krishna. “Ignoring this could lead to a product being undesirable for various reasons. A lot of us know this but still don’t take it seriously enough.”
Lessons from COVID-19
Like the majority of businesses across the world, Eyedentify has also been hit hard by the pandemic. Since fleet services have yet to resume operations across the country, there has been a slump in business for the startup.
However, the co-founders of Eyedentify have risen to the occasion and attempted innovation even in these uncertain times. The company has developed ‘eye-D’, a solution that performs contactless body temperature measurement, face mask detection and face identification. The solution is also available as a mobile phone attachment, making it a user-friendly and portable temperature and face mask detection I.D recognition solution. The solution targets companies that are interested in fostering a safe workplace, as well as gated apartment communities and organisations in the shared mobility space.
The detailed reports along with real-time alerts and notifications generated by the device, enable quick decision-making processes by organisations and gated communities, to ensure the safety of their personnel and residents respectively.
Eyedentify’s team has also faced some challenges due to implementing the work from home model during COVID-19. “For a hardware startup, WFH has been very challenging since a lot of what we do involves hands-on work with hardware and electronics,” explains Krishna. “We did, however, use some riders of food delivery apps to transport our hardware from one employee’s house to another to ensure that product development did not stop during the lockdown.”
The novel coronavirus has taught the startup valuable lessons in resilience and ingenuity. “It has been a great and challenging ride so far. Just when we thought that we had a great Driver Monitoring Solution that was seeing a lot of interest and traction, we got into the Covid-19 situation, which directly impacts our target customer base,” says Krishna. “We are keeping busy and the company alive by working on solutions that address the immediate needs of the current crisis, while parallelly doing feature improvements in the Driver Monitoring Solution.”
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, Eyedentify is confident of its roadmap for the future that will ensure a steady cycle of improved product development, catering to the needs of its target audience. “Going forward, we will be focusing on being on track with these as far as possible,” sums up Krishna.
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