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GreenRoad -Technology to Save Human Lives / By Hila Yaakobi

GreenRoad was founded in 2003 based on an idea developed by Ofer Raz. The company's unconventional field of business is preventing road accidents. Using the technology he developed, which provides feedback to the driver, GreenRoad hopes to bring a change in the way dangerous drivers behave while on the road.
We spoke with Hertzel Yehezkely, manager of operations at GreenRoad Israel, and Ofer Raz, vice president of development and the founder of the startup, about the idea that led to the founding of the company and is behind its operations, about the vision of making roads a safer place using advanced technology and about the company's character and management practices, as well as its business and employment horizon.

Is the feedback created by the system you developed provided in real-time?
Hertzel: Some of it is provided in real-time by a display mounted in the vehicle, and some of it is provided via Internet, e-mail or SMS. The feedback goes either to the driver himself, his parents in the case of young drivers, the manager of the vehicle fleet in the case of a company driver or anyone authorized to receive the data on the driver's conduct.

What is the technology you developed?
Hertzel: Our technology allows the driver's behavior to be gauged by checking a range of parameters on the driver's actions -accelerations, turns, passing, lane changing, braking, etc. Our accumulated experience enables us to analyze whether or not the driving is safe. By statistically tracking driving maneuvers over time one can reach a conclusion regarding whether the driver is a cautious or reckless driver, whether he is skilled or unskilled, safe or dangerous. GreenRoad develops the onboard technology as well as the technology on our servers, too allow the accumulated data to be collected and reports drawn up.
Ofer: The system is made up of two main components: an electronic component inside the vehicle, which tracks the vehicle's behavior using a series of sensors, and a system on our server, where the data is gathered via cellular communication and where the in-depth analysis of the data is carried out and a profile of the driver over time is built.

What is the harbinger that allows the technology you developed?
Ofer: The system that was developed is capable of learning the driver's profile and behavior over time, making it possible to obtain a true snapshot of his behavior while on the road. We believe that a driver whose behavior over time resembles that of drivers involved in road accidents is a more dangerous driver. The system knows how to measure very short periods of time - what the driver did today during a specific stretch of driving - and how to track him over time to observe the changes that have taken place in his behavior while on the road, and assess his risk level at any point in time.
Hertzel: There are three things we're very proud of:
1) The process of gauging driver maneuvers, which was developed by Ofer. The way the system gauges the 120 different maneuvers a driver executes and catalogs them is a very natural way to describe the problem, a lot more natural than crudely measuring accelerations or other crude parameters. This is an enormous technological achievement that also has practical ramifications (e.g. on the volume of measurements reported from the vehicle to the servers).
2) The way the measurements are taken is in astounding correlation to the history of the driver's accidents. Studies conducted on vehicle fleets in which our system was installed show a very high correlation between the drivers the system indicated were dangerous and their accident record.
3) Most important of all - the effect the feedback has on the drivers. When young drivers, as well as experienced drivers who don't think their driving behavior can be influenced, are shown the product's feedback their driving improves and the rate of erratic incidents decreases. Every driver interested in improving can improve and drive a lot more safely.


Hertzel Yehezkely, manager of operations (left), and Ofer Raz, vice president of
 development and founder of the startup (right), at the GreenRoad offices 

What is your target group?
Ofer: Our target group is really varied. From a business perspective we chose to begin with commercial fleets. This is a market where the solution needed as well as the type of assimilation are very clear.
Commercial fleets are vehicle fleets in which control of the vehicles is concentrated on a single point. It can be a fleet like Egged, a transport fleet or a fleet of vehicles provided as employee benefits.
Another target group is the insurance companies market, which is a developing market. Today there's a worldwide trend to search for a solution that will enable calculating insurance premiums according to a concept known as Pay As You Drive, i.e. gauging driving patterns and paying accordingly, rather than based on the driver's demographic profile. If you're a young driver, you won't necessarily have to pay a lot more money if your behavior on the road is like that of a mature driver. These processes are still in various stages of pilot programs and testing, but we see tremendous potential in this field.

Why does a vehicle fleet manager need your product?
Hertzel: We enable the fleet manager to manage safety in the fleet. We provide him tools to deal with problems like accidents, vehicle wear and excessive fuel consumption. In addition to providing feedback on a specific driver, we allow the fleet manager to look at his fleet as an entire unit and gain an understanding of what goals he can set for himself and how he can achieve them. The fleet has dozens or hundreds of drivers and it's very difficult for a fleet manager to track all of them. Our technology "bounces" aberrant drivers to the fleet manager and allows him to track his drivers much more closely.
Ofer: Major companies, which operate fleets numbering in the tens of thousands, have no way to control safety, especially in the case of truck drivers driving the length and breadth of a country. The tool we developed allows tracking and control of driver behavior, which was not possible previously.

Where did the idea of starting the company get started?
Ofer: The idea came up for the first time six years ago. I would come home at night from my job at another startup where I was working, and while I was driving on the Ayalon Highway on my way home I would get passed up by young drivers handling their cars in a really scary way. I thought to myself about how the range of options available as a solution to this problem are tools that address the problem by restricting the
vehicle – speed limitations, wider tires, lockage prevention, etc. I approached the matter from a different angle and thought to myself that if the parents of these drivers knew how they were acting on the roads, there's no chance they would continue to act like that and no chance they would get the car. From there, my thoughts turned to how this type of wild driving could be gauged in comparison to sensible, safe driving. The next stage on the way to a solution was trial and error, during which we checked how it was possible to execute measurements of driver behavior on the road.

And what was the next stage?
Ofer: When we built the first working prototype one of the first groups we linked up with Or Yarok [an organization that promotes road safety]. At first the idea was to focus on the issue of young drivers. Later we progressed to focusing on commercial fleets, but almost from the company's start we worked with Or Yarok in the area of young drivers, and one of the first things we observed in them was the impact the product had on the driving of those who used it.

What did you learn about young drivers from checking the system's findings?
Ofer: The moment a young driver receives real-time feedback from the system indicating that we now see you're driving in a hazardous manner, it causes an immediate change in his behavior, and the change that is expected is a radical one. At first young drivers go through a period of parental accompaniment. During this period they drive cautiously and the system doesn't record any dangerous maneuvers. But the first day the new driver gets the car to take for a drive with his friends, that very night we'll anticipate a tremendous change. Driving hours turn into more dangerous driving hours, the driving becomes more dangerous, with higher speeds and a lot of dangerous incidents. The moment we expose the young driver to the system the risk level drops and he returns to a more cautious type of driving, as if an adult were sitting beside him in the car.


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What is the structural organization of the company?
Hertzel: The entire company has 50 employees, over 30 in Israel and about 15 in England and the US. All of the company's regular operations are carried out in Israel, and all of the marketing, sales and customer support are carried out at the company offices in the US.
Ofer: In terms of its organizational structure the company was founded as an American company with an Israeli subsidiary involved in development. The parent company managing both the Israeli branch and the British branch is American.

What kind of workers does the company employ in Israel?
Hertzel: About half of the workers are development personnel and the other half are operations personnel – the network operation center, logistics, integration and product conveyance. The crude production is generally done by outside contractors, sometimes in Israel. Today more and more in the Far East, but quality assurance and integration take place here in Israel. The product is an Israeli product in every respect and we have unit pride. From here it goes to the fleets in which we install them abroad.

What is the atmosphere like at the company in Israel?
Ofer: On one hand this company is a startup, which naturally makes it very dynamic, with a lot of short-term changes. On the other hand we feel like a family. Over a long period of time we've worked as a limited group of people, all of whom are still with us, and the atmosphere here is very warm.

To what extent is the product you developed penetrating foreign markets?
Ofer: We've already installed the system in some of the largest fleets in the US, and in Britain have done our first installation for a large government organization. The interest the product generated as a new product in a niche that didn't exist previously is extensive. Because of our research background we get a lot of exposure in the academic world, at numerous academic conferences. Today a number of researchers are using our systems for research purposes. As a result we receive inquiries from companies that are highly interested in our product.

Where do you think the company is headed in terms of development?
Ofer: The company intends to double its staff by the end of 2008.
Hertzel: Today we're in the process of growth and therefore we're looking for more people. Our main bottlenecks are development and QA. We plan to grow very substantially in the number of fleet installations and also in the number of clients. We already have two generations of products installed on our customers' fleets and we're planning the next generation. We don't plan to turn into a huge company of hundreds of employees in the near future. That might happen in another ten years, but in the coming year or two we do plan to grow significantly compared to our present size, but it will remain an intimate, friendly place to work, where everybody knows everybody else and everyone comes to push tasks forward and make the next generation even better.

What kind of people are you looking for to join the company?
Ofer: Along with their technological abilities and their ability to contribute to the company and bring new ideas into the company, we're looking for people suited to working as part of a small team that works very closely and know not only how to work together, but also how to enjoy the work. It's very important to us that the people who come to work here feel when they wake up in the morning they're heading off to do something important that they enjoy doing.

What is management's relationship with the workers like?
Ofer: There's full openness. We're all on the same floor, walk the same hallways, eat together, live together. The doors of all of the managers are open and people go in and talk about any matter without feeling that the hierarchy creates a problem of accessibility. From a social and managerial standpoint we work with full flexibility. Each of us can come forward with an idea, a request or a complaint and go to anyone we choose.
Hertzel: Because there are two departments living together here, both the Development and QA Department and the Remote Service and Support Department, we have a lot of interaction with customers and a major portion of the atmosphere is based on being customer-oriented, creating an atmosphere of openness and attentiveness. It radiates on everything that takes place at the company, on the atmosphere, on the way things are run and on everyone's conduct here. We're very alert to what is taking place around us.

Do you also have influence in terms of retaining employees?
Hertzel: We don't have anyone who picked up and left the company because things were bad for him. People who started out here want to see the company grow and prosper and want to be a part of this growth.
Ofer: We managed to create an environment here in which people feel a sense of belonging and a desire to contribute. People come with ideas and they find someone who wants to listen and a place for self-expression. At the same time we're a company that provides its employees a feeling of stability. The employees are exposed to commercial developments and understand that there's stability and continuity at the company. They see the company has grown steadily and meets the goals it sets for itself. These are important things that have an impact on the way the workers feel.

Do you see potential in the local market?
Hertzel: We're installed systems in several fleets in Israel, mostly for checking and feedback. Israel is a fantastic country for receiving feedback. In the past two months we've started to develop the local market. Today we have an Israeli sales manager, an Israeli client portfolios manager and soon we'll start to make ourselves known in Israel, too.

What were your considerations in setting up GreenRoad as a US-based company?
Ofer: The decision to build an American management team stemmed from business considerations related to penetrating the market. At a certain stage, once we had reached sufficient maturity in terms of the product and the technology, we began focusing on marketing and managing abilities in the US. Right now the majority of our operations are in Europe and the US.
Hertzel: When you look where the innate abilities lie you could say the energy and the drive to come up with the invention, to make the idea happen and to operate it in the field in such a successful way are Israeli abilities. On the other hand, Israelis don't know how to market and reach customers in such a precise, focused and successful manner as Americans and Europeans, so I think that today we have a winning combination, and I'm not the only one who thinks that way.

Who else thinks that way?
Hertzel: Just recently we raised quite a large sum of money. The fundraising effort was led by the venture capital fund headed by billionaire Richard Branson of Virgin, and all of the prior investors took part, too. We underwent a very meticulous process to assess whether we were really worth what we had declared our value to be. The fact is that they arrived at the conclusion that we are. We feel really good about the investment money we received.
Ofer: In addition to the large fundraising campaign, which gives us room to maneuver for the next few years, last year we were recognized by Globes-Red Herring as one of the three Israeli startups with the greatest commercial potential.

Have you received recognition from other places, as well?
Ofer: We work with the Or Yarok organization, which has checked the product over the course of four years and believes in it. The Transportation Minister says he wants to see "the green box," i.e. our product, which provides a solution for young drivers, school buses and transporting hazardous substances. MK Ronit Tirosh proposed legislation and we were invited to the Knesset to tell them about the product. When all this happens you realize you're dealing with something real, that you're touching people, affecting them, and at the end of the day are dealing with bringing people back home safe and sound, and that's the most stirring thing of all.

What's your vision regarding the company?
Hertzel: Like every company, we're hoping to reach a state of being entirely independent, rather than having to rely on investors. But from a broader viewpoint the vision is for people to drive more safely and for there to be fewer road accidents through the use of our product.

How is GreenRoad different from most startups?
Ofer: On the individual level. I've been involved in a whole lot of startups and there's something different and very special at this startup. Your ability to have an impact right away, to cause real change in people's way of life and in the long run to save lives. This is something generally not found in this field. It's not about the development of another type of technology, but something that has an immediate effect, and one we feel on a day-to-day basis. When we receive letters from parents of young drivers saying they feel like we saved their son's life, it comes to us as very moving and real feedback.

Are the people you employ partners in this feeling?
Ofer: Oftentimes people who come to assess the company from a business or technological standpoint stay here and say they want to work here and take part in this project. People who could choose to work at just about any company they wanted to in the Israeli market and chose to stay here. What this company does is on one hand genuine high tech that involves a real technological challenge and all the things serious high-tech companies have to confront, and on the other hand there's a human dimension that at the end of the day is more rewarding than anything else.


For the Hebrew Article

 
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