Jannink decided to try to address these issues and founded Acusensus to develop automated cameras which could detect drivers using their mobile phones.
He raised $600,000 to start the business, teaming up with co-founder Ravin Mirchandani, chairman of Indian power electronics manufacturer Ador Powertron.
Jannink says making the leap to start Acusensus was not easy.
“It’s been pretty scary particularly around financial security,” he says. “I have two kids and you know the statistics, most small businesses do not succeed. It helped having purpose. I really wanted to solve the problem rather than being financially driven, although obviously all business have to make a profit.”
Jannink demonstrated the system and an early prototype to a “large corporate” in Australia, which vouched for a work and led to an introduction to the then minister for roads in New South Wales, Melinda Pavey.
Under a three month pilot earlier this year Acusensus’ cameras snapped a photo of every driver who passed cameras near the M4 motorway at Prospect, and Anzac Parade at Moore Park in a bid to identify those illegally using mobile phones.
The opportunity for Acusensus to take their solution globally is very real and hugely valuable.
“It takes political courage, which is where the NSW government does a good job in this space,” Jannink says. “[Minister Pavey] said to the department ‘Go and make the investment work and simultaneously push through legislative change’. The reality of this problem is that every day you delay is another extra fatality.”
Acusensus’ trial on the M4 freeway in Sydney detected just under 96,000 infringements in 90 days.
“That just validates what everybody knows, drivers are distracted with their phones,” says Jannink. “The technology is going really well I think the government is very happy with the solution and has confidence in it. It does exactly what it is supposed to do, catches people using technology illegally at speed. On the flipside it shows how pervasive the problem is.”
However the trial did face scrutiny from the Privacy Commissioner which raised a range of matters with Transport for NSW including questions about the legal basis for “capturing personal information of individuals in every vehicle passing by the cameras”.
Jannink says the review was part of the “normal processes” of government.
“We know that privacy is very important to the public so privacy has always been of paramount importance to us,” he says. “We have a lot of robust systems in place to ensure privacy. The reality of this system is almost all the data captured is deleted.”
Jannink says the “next logical step” is for the trial to go live however a spokesperson for Transport for NSW says while the trial has been completed, the results are being finalised.
“The government will be examining those results before they make a decision,” the spokesperson says.
Jannink says Acusensus, which is based in Melbourne, has had a “number of discussions” about the application of its technology in Victoria and other states.
“The Victorian government is deciding what to do in this space,” he says. “We are ready, our technology is proven as soon as they say go and deploy our systems we can deploy.”
The startup is part of the Melbourne Accelerator Program and professor Colin McLeod, executive director of the Melbourne Entrepreneurial Centre which facilitates the program, says Acusensus faces challenges due to the complexities of the technical, legal and regulatory environment it operates in.
However, McLeod says if Acusensus can overcome these challenges the potential is huge for the startup, which has a staff of 11 permanent employees and turned over more than $1 million last year.
“The opportunity for Acusensus to take their solution globally is very real and hugely valuable,” he says. “The statistics we are seeing from the Acusensus trial about drivers being distracted by mobile phone usage are absolutely staggering and deeply alarming.”
The startup is looking to raise $3 million to expand its research and development hub and its functionality.
“Our key goal is addressing distraction but the same technology can be used for speed, unregistered vehicles and seatbelt use,” Jannink says. “This is a global problem they are looking at which markets of the world we can introduce the technology to. My real dream is to see a reduction in road trauma, that is how I will measure success.”
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Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne