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Technology

AI is watching you drive

A Japanese auto-leasing agency is using high-tech to catch dangerous behavior

AI analyzes dashcam recordings to spot dangerous behavior such as talking on the phone while driving.

TOKYO A Japanese car leasing company is using a new artificial intelligence system to assess accident risk.

Sumitomo Mitsui Auto Service hopes to receive an annual 3,000 contracts for the service.

Its potential clients are companies that lease vehicles, then ask employees to drive them. The service is designed to find out which employees are more likely to be involved in an accident and to encourage these drivers to take lessons, online courses or other measures to improve their driving skills.

The system, developed by Digital Media Professionals, a Tokyo-based 3-D graphics technology company, analyzes dashcam recordings of drivers, using AI with machine-learning capabilities. Instead of focusing on the speed or the movement of the vehicle, the system checks whether the driver is engaging in dangerous behavior, such as dozing, looking at something other than the road, texting, talking on the phone, controlling a navigation system or steering with one hand.

The system analyzes about 10 hours of recordings and identifies eight risky behaviors. It detects, for example, changes in the amount of the driver's skin that is visible in the video and decides which way the driver is facing and what behavior he or she is engaging in.

Based on such an analysis, the system automatically produces a report on the driver, detailing which dangerous behavior took place, for how long and under what circumstances, such as how fast the vehicle was going at the time.

Sumitomo Mitsui Auto then proposes solutions, such as counseling, online courses or driving lessons. The purpose is to change risky drivers' mindsets.

The service, including analysis of 10 hours of recordings, costs 15,000 yen ($137).

The company used to offer a similar but rather primitive service. Recordings were played at double speed and checked by humans, who took about six hours to complete the analysis. The new system requires no human involvement; it can complete its task and produce a report in 40 minutes or so.

Thanks to the spread of dashcams and other in-vehicle devices, cars today can produce vast amounts of data. But, said Takahiro Hanai of Sumitomo Mitsui Auto, this data "had not been much analyzed or made much use of due to cost and other issues." The latest service offers not only analysis but also a report and a list of possible solutions.

According to the car-leasing company, people with numerous traffic offenses, or who have caused an accident before, and young drivers who have relatively little experience are more likely to be involved in accidents. Sumitomo Mitsui Auto plans to target companies employing people from these high-risk groups.

A separate service looks at drivers' accident records, as well as the results of online courses they have taken and divides them into four categories in terms of their likelihood of causing a traffic accident. The company then encourages those judged to be high risk to have their driving videos analyzed.

In a pilot program, the AI-based service reduced accident rates among drivers with a history of traffic accidents.

In Japan, a total of 647,000 new vehicles were leased last year, up 4% from the year before, according to the Japan Automotive Leasing Association. While Japan's new vehicle sales are continuing to fall now that young people have become disinclined to drive, the car-leasing industry is growing, mostly thanks to demand from businesses. As they try to meet more of this demand, leasing companies are trying to differentiate their services by incorporating information technology.

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