Roy Golombick had parked his car at the mall to buy flowers for his wife. When he returned just 20 minutes later, “The whole side of my door was basically inside my car,” he recalls. “Someone had smashed into it and drove off.”
Golombick’s unfortunate experience got him thinking: With so many cameras now recording everything we do in public, maybe someone had captured the smash-and-run and could help him find the culprit.
There weren’t any security cameras in the parking lot near his car, but what about dash cams? Golombick wondered. An increasingly popular aftermarket vehicle add-on, an inexpensive dash cam will record everything that’s happening in front of a car while the car is in operation.
Golombick started researching the dash cam industry. “It became a passion,” he tells ISRAEL21c. Golombick’s obsession eventually resulted in Comroads, a new app for Android devices (an iPhone version is in the pipeline) that launches today.
If you have a dash cam in your car, the Comroads app will connect to it via Wi-Fi, allowing you rapid access to the dash cam’s video footage. Comroads does this by matching the video shot by the dash cam with GPS coordinates. To see what happened at a particular location, simply tap on the map and Comroads finds the right segment.
That wouldn’t have helped Golombick since his car wasn’t running when it was hit. That’s where the “com” in Comroads comes in – it stands for community. When you tap a location on the Comroads map, it will send a request to other Comroads users in the area to see if they snapped video of the incident.
Users don’t have to do anything other than tap. Comroads processes the request and forwards any corresponding videos it finds. It’s all anonymous. “We don’t even require that you verify your email to set it up,” Golombick adds.
If you don’t want to share your video but still want to use Comroads, that’s fine, too. But you won’t be able to request video from other Comroads users in case of an accident.
Golombick is guessing you’ll want to share, though. It might save you money on your insurance premiums.
“Insurance companies love these videos,” Golombick says, especially in the 40 percent of traffic incidents where drivers dispute who was at fault.
“Lack of evidence in the case of automobile accidents costs the insurance industry tens of billions of dollars every year, in either unjustified or fraudulent claims,” Golombick says. Comroads aims to provide “road-related evidence from any time and any place, using technologies that are already on the road.”
Video shot by a third party is always better, he adds, “because you can see what happened from outside of your car.” With enough dash cams providing video, an insurance company can build a 360-degree view of the accident.
Gathering that critical mass of users is the same kind of chicken-and-egg problem other driving apps like Waze have confronted: You need users to predict traffic conditions, but who will use the app before the masses arrive?
Comroads launched on the web earlier this year, but that was limited to videos of road rage and bad driving behavior uploaded by users. The company’s Israeli Facebook page has 24,000 likes, indicating that watching cars cut in front of each other is a surprisingly captivating pastime.
“We want people to start using the app, so we can build a system to properly share videos,” Golombick explains. “We need users to refine the community mode, to collect data and cross-reference drivers with videos.”
Golombick says Comroads will use some of the $800,000 seed money it’s raised to target potential users in the UK, where about 15 percent of drivers have dash cams installed, and Israel. As more money is raised, more locations will be added.
Meanwhile, if you want to see if someone has a video of your driving incident and can’t wait until the next version of the app is out, “You can contact us and we’ll do the cross-referencing through our system for you,” Golombick promises.
Bundles and partnerships
Dash cams typically record only six to seven hours on a flash drive or memory card. When they reach capacity, they start writing over the data. But that shouldn’t be a problem in case of an incident.
“If you’re in an accident, you’ll request video from other users as soon as possible,” Golombick says. He points out, too, that if you mainly drive to and from work, those six hours could last close to a week.
Comroads currently supports two popular aftermarket dash cams from Yi and Viofo, with more on the way. “Our goal is to support as many dash cams as we can,” Golombick says. He’s in talks with a few manufacturers about getting Comroads software bundled into new dash cams.
Bundles and partnerships could be key for generating revenue, since the Comroads app is free. Golombick says the company is also intrigued by how the app could fit into the autonomous vehicle ecosystem. “We’ll be working with a lot of videos and telematics data,” which is how self-driving cars “learn,” he says.
The timing is good. Just last week, Tesla announced that a new software update would allow its vehicles’ forward-facing cameras to be used as a dash cam recorder.
Comroads is still small – there are just four people at the company, which is based at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem because the seed money came from VLX Ventures, which is located on Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus. (Golombick is a Tel Aviv University graduate with master’s degree in materials and nano-technology engineering.)
You don’t need Comroads to access video from your dash cam but it’s a cumbersome process. Golombick recalls an attempt to download video without Comroads software. “I’m very experienced with anything to do with dash cams,” he says, but even so, “it still took me 11 minutes until I had it on my phone.”