Strip District startup develops software to predict safety risks for trucking companies

Kris B. Mamula
post-gazette.com

As fatal crashes involving big rig and buses inches upward nationwide, a Strip District startup company says it has figured out a way to predict which drivers are most likely to be involved in a crash.

The payoff could be big for Idelic Inc., which claims that its technology is capable of predicting 90 percent of big-truck accidents, based on individual driver data that is tracked from a number of sources. Idelic is using its machine learning algorithm to predict driver traffic violations, injuries and other risk metrics that can wind up costing lives and trucking companies big bucks — and tie up the Turnpike for hours.

“Our goal is to step in and be proactive and identify the risks before the big crash,” said Idelic co-founder Nick Bartel.

Bus and big-truck driving safety is getting new attention nationally as the number of the vehicles involved in fatal crashes rises — up 8 percent to 4,311 in 2015, from 3,749 in 2014, the latest data available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Excessive speed was the No. 1 reason for fatal crashes followed by driver distraction or inattention.
Fatalities involving big trucks, buses inch upward As drivers involved in fatalities rise, Strip District startup Idelic Inc. has developed software the company says can predict driver accidents with 90 percent accuracy. TOTAL LARGE TRUCK AND BUS FATALITIES, 2010-15
Fatalities3 ,9573 ,9574 ,0434 ,0434 ,2084 ,2084 ,2784 ,2784 ,1684 ,1684 ,3374 ,337Total large truck and bus fatalities​20102011201220132014201501k2k3k4k5k2011● Total large truck and bus fatalities: 4 ,043
Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration | Graphic: James Hilston/Post-Gazette

Liability awards for crashes involving big trucks and death or catastrophic injury can range up to $10 million, according to 2013 research conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a Calverton, Md.-based nonprofit, enough to make any carrier wince.

Idelic — which was built on intellectual property developed over 10 years at Pitt Ohio, a Strip District freight hauling and logistics company — recently closed on $1 million in seed financing led by Birchmere Ventures, also based in the Strip. Additional investment came from New York City-based McCune Capital and M25 Group of Chicago.

Idelic was founded in 2016 by three Carnegie Mellon University business school alumni: Mr. Bartel, 33; Hayden Cardiff, 27; and Andrew Russell, 26. At the time, the three founders were enrolled in CMU’s MBA program.

Pitt Ohio, which has 4,000 rigs on the road, licensed driver safety technology that was developed in-house to Idelic, which added machine learning and predictive modeling capabilities. Idelic employs three people and plans to hire five more.

“They have us as proof of concept,” Pitt Ohio President Charles Hammel said. “It brings everything about the drive into a central work space, showing whose driving and work habits could create an unsafe situation.”

Pitt Ohio hired Mr. Cardiff as a consultant in 2015 before Mr. Hammel decided to spin out a separate company. Idelic’s flagship product, called SafetyBox, is credited with shrinking Pitt Ohio’s accident rate to one-half the trucking industry rate, based on miles driven.

Big rig driver safety checks were once mainly limited to 1-800-How’s My Driving placards, but Idelic collects information from a wide variety of sources, including routine medical exams, traffic violations, accident reports and onboard monitoring systems. Idelic makes the information available for review in one place, which in past years was siloed in any number of separate reports, to flag drivers at risk for an injury or costly crash.

Carriers have used onboard systems to record such things as hard braking incidents, speeding and frequent lane changes to signal potential driver problems.

But with an industry turnover rate of 71 percent, according to the Arlington, Va.-based American Trucking Association, Pitt Ohio and Idelic say weeding out problem rig drivers isn’t the goal.

“We’re not looking to get rid of bad drivers. It’s not a Big Brother thing,” he said.

Carriers have a “hard enough time finding drivers,” Mr. Cardiff added. “What gets drivers to the point of getting fired is big accidents.”

Instead, at-risk drivers identified by the technology are flagged for counseling, remedial training or other corrective measures, which helps the driver, the company and highway safety, Mr. Hammel said.

SafetyBox is a software service that features real-time alerts about risky driver behavior. The company’s products are marketed to about a dozen companies.

“It gives you information that allows you to make decisions,” Pitt Ohio’s Mr. Hammel said. “We take a lot of pride in staying ahead of the curve.”

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