Making driving safe- An IoT hardware unit – startup story

Two Engineers,  Nikhiljit Singh from Singapore and Noufal from India, were participants in the Startup Garage program at the University of South California, USA. The innovators decided to drop out of the program mid-way and return to Singapore to start their venture. In June 2015, they created a company. They named it Spade Techs.

The two pooled their savings together. They applied and received a startup grant from the Singapore government. With this, they created a unique Head up display product that would enhance safety in driving. 208 backers on Kickstarters then gave the innovation a heads up contributing 79286 US dollars to the venture.

As part of my continuing coverage of startup companies, I got around to having a chat with Nikhiljit Singh, the young CEO of the company. Nikhiljit unveiled the HUD device, which they branded as iScout, in the recently concluded startup event Rise, organized by the web summit people. The event was organized in Hongkong; Nikhiljit told me investors had expressed interest, and the two were in deep discussions to secure the first round of funding.

The account is a smart Heads up Display unit. It can be mounted on the dashboard of an automobile. The device connects to the driver’s smartphone through blue tooth. Simultaneously the team syncs with the vehicle. Blind spot cameras can be integrated with the unit. These enable the driver to keep an eye on blind spots on turns.

The device console displays virtual road parameters to the driver while driving. As the device is mounted at the driver’s eye level, one can view the console without taking the eye off the road. The device monitors vehicle parameters like fuel gauges and overspeeding. The inbuilt GPS device can direct the driver to the nearest fuel station for a refill, and a warning is sounded when the vehicle crosses the set speed limit.

The primary purpose of the iScout HUD unit is to alert the driver to road and traffic conditions ahead. Nikhiljit and Noufal have designed the unit as a device for driver safety. Many accidents happen when drivers are distracted by an incoming call or try to read or send a message email on their mobile phone.

Many countries have brought regulations prohibiting the use of mobile phones by drivers. However, in today’s hyper-connected world, people find it difficult to stay away from these multifunctional devices. Safety rules are breached, and accidents ensue.

The iScout unit has a hand sensor detecting application that can be used to refuse or take a call with a wave of a hand. Messages, emails, and other information are also displayed on the iScout console. While the Founders will build more innovative products over time, I was wondering about future innovations to the existing iScout versions.

As voice-based messaging and technology to convert voice into text innovations mature, future iScout’s versions could probably incorporate these into the next versions. Maybe these innovations will come to the smartphone first, and the need to integrate these into a driving safety device may evaporate.

The advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things have futuristic potential too. Smart devices like iScout have the potential to get integrated as true IoT devices in electric cars. Electric cars have a strong application backbone responsible for driving these units.

Nikhiljit and Noufal are probably already dreaming of building such connected systems. Today, however, the focus is on getting the first round of funding and putting the venture on sound financial footing.

The biggest challenge for a startup is finding a market for its product. Startups come up with innovative ideas and great products but struggle to find buyers, manage cash flows and build a sustainable company. In interview after interview with startups, I found that the biggest challenge faced by startups is building a sustainable company. I found Nikhiljit different. He appeared aware of this challenge and is gearing up to tackle this head-on.

He has already in touch with Taxi aggregators like Uber, Lyft, and Ola, for whom vehicle road safety is paramount. If they strike a deal for installing iScout’s devices into the car networks of these multibillion-dollar startups, revenues and cash flow to his venture will be substantially secured.

With the demo version of iScout ready and tested in Singapore, the entrepreneurs expect the Beta version of the system to be ready by July. The venture is already registered in the US. The plan is to relocate to the US, where a bigger market exists for connected products like iScout.

I found Nikhiljit drawn toward the excellent innovation ecosystem in Silicon Valley. This appears to be a growing trend of startups from Singapore. Nikhiljit is currently using an outsourcing group based out of Bangalore, India, for writing the software of iScout. He and Noufal appear satisfied with the work of this group.

This indicates a growing global trend where innovation with structural reform and growth in India and other parts of the developing world is becoming multi-locational. Bangalore is an emerging center where a lot of research and development work is done.

Is Bangalore emerging as a parallel center to Silicon Valley? I am not sure. There are still too many bottlenecks there. Quality education and an innovation network available in the Valley are missing in the city, but the spirit of innovation is getting stronger. As for now, Silicon Valley will continue to attract innovators like Nikhiljit, Noufal, Pulkit Jaiswal, and others. But competition is catching up.

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Sudhirahluwalia, Inc