Visitors to the giant CES consumer tech conference and exhibition in Las Vegas last month had the misfortune of arriving just as the city had its first rainstorm after a record 116-day dry spell. The torrent brought grease to the surface of the streets, causing skidding and numerous accidents.
For the Israeli startup WayCare it was an especially challenging day, too. “In the last two days of CES we had more events than during the entire first week of the conference,” said CEO Noam Maital.
That’s because WayCare’s traffic monitoring technology is installed in Nevada’s traffic control center, seeing and reacting to everything relevant happening on Las Vegas’ roads and providing real-time solutions.
It does this by taking data from an elaborate network of sensors on stoplights and security and traffic cameras and combining it with information on the weather and data from navigation apps such as Waze and GreenRoad (also Israeli technologies). It even uses ticket sales from TicketMaster to forecast crowd sizes at sports events and concerts.
WayCare not only knows what is happening everywhere but can use the data to predict the likelihood of a traffic jam and what areas are at risk for accidents and to respond by changing the timing on traffic lights, opening and closing roads, altering messages on road signs and sending out instructions to police officers.
Before WayCare, controllers would view images from more than 700 cameras across the city and decide, based on what they were seeing, the risk of traffic building up or an accident occurring; now it is also done automatically, including an assessment of the risk.
“When a controller receives an accident warning through our system, he creates a report that includes a video, clicks on the report and sends it automatically to the relevant party,” said Maital. “The traffic cop, for example, who is linked into the system, now knows exactly where he needs to go, including what lane and how the accident looks. Even before he arrives, he can decide whether he needs more police or to call an ambulance or firefighters.”
Las Vegas, the first customer for WayCare, is completing a pilot that began in September. Since then Maital and his partners, Chief Technology Officer Idan Hahn and Chief Information Officer Shai Suzan, have spent hundreds of hours in the city, not playing the slots but watching the cars go by and fine-tuning the system.
“It began on the basic level of adjusting the keys on the tablets carried by police and patrol officers — they have the fingers of working people. Another was moving the screens and maps to night mode because they lit up the squad car like a flashlight,” said Maital.
Today, every accident that occurs in the city runs through the WayCare system, saving critical minutes compared with the traditional way of reporting them over two-way radio.
“Our aim was and remains predicting traffic and improving road safety, but very quickly we realized that to work with Las Vegas we needed to give them a technological solution to the problem of communication,” Maital explained. “There are several government bodies that routinely work together but have never used the same system.”
For instance, when a dangerous chemical spills onto the street, the first point of contact is the fire department. But the police have to get involved, too, so communications can get complicated. WayCare is working to link the fire department to their system.
Theresa Gaisser, a controller, said WayCare had reduced the response time to accidents and other occurrences by an average of 12 minutes. The system is often aware of a problem even before the first 911 call comes in.
WayCare is not alone in the industry. The Israeli startup NowForce is now working in the field, as well as Reporty, which counts former Prime Minister Ehud Barak among its investors. Another Israeli company, Matti Kochavi’s AGT, offers solutions as does mPrest, which had a hand in developing the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
“Las Vegas was a city built on gambling so you could say that taking chances — like working with a small startup from Israel — is part of its DNA,” said Maital. “For us, it’s the perfect first customer. The number of incidents over the course of the day is high and they host more than 40 million tourists a year. Also the fact that there was a big tech conference here allowed us to demonstrate it to potential customers.”
WayCare is now in talks with the city of Tampa, Florida and with the state of Delaware.