Dash cameras evolve with AI for facial recognition, driver self-coaching

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Updated Jul 7, 2020
A new option for Samsara’s AI Dash Cam gives real-time alerts for distracted driving.A new option for Samsara’s AI Dash Cam gives real-time alerts for distracted driving.

“Will it play in Peoria?” is a colloquial question asked by companies before launching new products they hope will have mainstream appeal.

Samsara might have answered a similar question before it launched a new product on Wed., July 1, that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect risky driving:

Will it change risky driving in New York City?

The answer came from a fleet that operates 200 vehicles in NYC to respond to more than 400,000 emergency calls every year.

With roots in the nursing home business, SeniorCare EMS expanded to become the largest commercial ambulance service in the Big Apple. The fleet has an exclusive contract with a major city hospital to field 911 calls, but the majority of its transport is for non-emergencies to move patients from hospitals to nursing homes.

Any type of accident the fleet has, no matter how severe, is potentially life threatening when a critical care patient is onboard. Protecting the company is another concern with New York being a very litigious state. The company’s headquarters are in the Bronx where “lawyers get super excited,” said Robert Ackerman, safety director of SeniorCare EMS.

Another risk factor is that employees for SeniorCare EMS are trained paramedics but are not commercial drivers. They are also younger in age, and many have a bad habit that needs to be corrected right away. “They can’t stay off the phone,” he said.

Intelligent camera vision

A new option for Samsara’s AI Dash Cam detects tailgating and sends instant alerts to drivers and fleet managers.A new option for Samsara’s AI Dash Cam detects tailgating and sends instant alerts to drivers and fleet managers.

Samsara announced new driver safety options for commercial and private fleets that use its mobile platform and Samsara AI Dash Cams. All of these features have been tested by SeniorCare EMS during the COVID-19 pandemic when its business required an all-hands-on-deck approach to meet the surge in demand.

  • Tailgating Detection automatically detects when drivers are following other vehicles too closely at high speeds and auto-uploads these incidents to the fleet management dashboard for video-based coaching.
  • Distracted Driving Detection gives visibility to the prevalence of distracted driving behaviors and events.
  • Preventative In-Cab Alerts are given to drivers when tailgating or distracted driving is detected to help adjust risky behavior.
  • Configurable Safety Score customizes how driver and fleet Safety Scores are calculated by assigning specific weights to harsh events, speeding severity, defensive driving, and more.
  • Enhanced Safety Report compiles more detailed data on speeding severity and behavior trends across a fleet.

Changing driver behaviors

SeniorCare EMS first deployed the Samsara platform in January. The platform combines vehicle telematics, driver safety and asset tracking to replace three separate systems the fleet had been using for each function.

When hiring workers, one of the first steps is to score their driving behaviors. During orientation they are placed with an instructor for a “commentary drive” and given a tiered status based on their Safety Score from Samsara. Drivers are shown clips of events that caused their scores to drop, such as rolling through a stop or not checking their mirrors.

SeniorCare EMS has tripled its call volume during the COVID-19 pandemic.SeniorCare EMS has tripled its call volume during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the orientation training, the Samsara platform uses facial recognition to automatically identify drivers and track their safety performance.

Samsara said the same Camera ID feature is being used by motor carriers to help fleet managers assign drivers to unassigned hours of service.

At SeniorCare EMS, drivers are assigned to different vehicles every shift. If the facial recognition algorithms used by the Samsara AI Dash Cams logs are not 100% confident, the system prompts fleet managers to assign the driver to the correct vehicle through the dashboard.

The driver detection process has been more difficult with drivers wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, but “it looks at more points on the face than just your mouth and nose, so it’s actually been pretty good at tagging people with masks on,” Ackerman said.

The main goal of SeniorCare EMS for deploying the Samsara platform was reducing accident frequency and severity, with a special emphasis on reducing rear end, intersection and fatigue-related collisions.

Intersection collisions are the most dangerous. The company’s policy calls for drivers to come to a complete stop at red lights before they enter an intersection, even if they have their lights and sirens on – a step above state law, which only requires ambulances to slow down before entering an intersection, Ackerman said.

The company is looking to use Samsara to monitor whether or not drivers come to a stop at traffic lights and has been testing the new product features that give drivers in-cab alerts for harsh braking, tailgating and distracted driving. When these events occur, fleet managers get real-time email or text notifications.

By recording the driver and passenger, SeniorCare EMS is able to resolve complaints between co-workers using Samsara AI Dash Cams.By recording the driver and passenger, SeniorCare EMS is able to resolve complaints between co-workers using Samsara AI Dash Cams.

Ackerman said he calls drivers immediately for distracted driving events. He also brings them in for coaching at the start or end of their shift.

“When you coach employees, I can tell you that you can’t be on a cell phone, but when they take a look at the video it totally makes sense. We very rarely see repeat offenders. I think they really do learn from it,” he said.

At present, SeniorCare EMS is not using the in-cab alerts for distracted driving that give drivers a series of escalated tones according to the number of seconds their eyes are not on the road.

Before turning on the distracted driving alerts, Ackerman said he wants to be certain the system is not giving drivers false positives, or they “are going to ignore them.”

Quick lookups

Besides monitoring driver risk and coaching, Ackerman regularly uses the Samsara reporting tools to exonerate drivers. Before using the technology, the company lacked information for responding to complaints from motorists such as “your driver was on a cell phone.”

By using the Proximity Report feature, Ackerman is able to instantaneously pull video footage for any date, time and location. Recently, he used the report to respond to a call from an insurance company who claimed that a SeniorCare EMS driver hit a stopped vehicle.

The Proximity Report showed no vehicle was near the event. Reports also show the full details of vehicle route histories, including when and where ambulances had their lights and sirens activated.

SeniorCare EMS uses the system as well to investigate complaints that workers may have with co-workers. The inward facing camera records audio and video of both the driver and passenger during the entire shift. The recording starts when the engine is turned on and ends one hour after the engine is turned off, Ackerman said.