What If Ridesharing Apps Could Save Your Life After a Crash?

A new narrative for ridesharing companies

If you’re like me — an occasional ride-sharer who admires the remarkable ability of relatively young firms like Uber and Lyft to fundamentally change how Americans and people worldwide arrange transportation — you may have also joined me in watching wide-eyed as 2017 has jolted Uber. Mr. Kalanick and his team are not having a great… year so far. (By the way, Travis Kalanick: If you happen to read this, first and foremost, I want to wish you sincerest condolences on the tragic loss of your mother… a story that went far too far under the radar, given the noise at Uber. My heart breaks for you.)

Speaking as a longtime journalist, and current health- and auto-tech entrepreneur — full disclosure: parts of this article will be self-serving — one unspoken trick of the 24-hour news cycle is that the fastest way to improve one’s headlines is to change them. Shift the story to focus on something you’re more excited to discuss, which overwrites the “message of the moment,” as the news cycle is ruthless but also ephemeral. The public wants something new, comforting.

Uber’s brand is under attack, but perhaps that should not come as a surprise, since big success brings a big target. In recent months, a self-driving Uber vehicle in Arizona flipped onto its side. The photo above purportedly shows an Uber autonomous vehicle running a red light in California. The company reportedly has resumed autonomous vehicle testing in California, supposedly with a more advanced model. (TechCrunch described the latter vehicles as at a “different stage” of development vs. the “12 test cars apiece it’s been piloting in the other locations”— explaining why it’s feeling confident enough to return to the road in SF but not yet elsewhere.) And this is to say nothing about the legal war swirling about, centered on intellectual property matters.

Uber’s customers (as opposed to its gawkers) have little reason to focus on internal H.R. matters or IP concerns —that’s all Silicon Valley-business news sensationalism. But on the contrary, watching transportation innovation taking place in broad daylight, with arguably too much sunshine focused on the quality improvement and regulatory processes, is a unique chance for the non-tech world to see behind the startup curtain. Still, the company’s media team — or its CEO — have a moment to bolster Uber’s brand by pivoting to themes that underscore how much the company cares for its customers.

For example:

One of the few areas where Uber, Lyft, Ola, Didi Chuxing, and other ridesharing ventures are aligned is that they have an equal need for safety enhancements — and have been equally silent on the subject. Have you noticed that for all the conversation about autonomous vehicle operations, and perhaps especially autonomous braking systems, the topic of what happens to a vehicle’s occupants after a crash rarely comes up? This despite the fact that the core premise of ridesharing means stepping into an unknown car with an unknown person; the trust/faith factor is through the sky. In the past, the public has heard tales of problems with crazy drivers or passengers, even crashes — most recently, an autonomous vehicle that wound up on its side in Tempe, AZ. Sometimes, the crash reporting process itself makes news.

Sometimes, even the crash reporting process for ridesharing vehicles makes news.

I wanted to understand whether this gap in the conversation was real: how could companies like Lyft — which is backed by GM — and Uber, which had raised at least $15 billion as of June 2016, have missed the fact that their safety infrastructures are deficient when it comes to what happens after a crash… especially in contrast to the rest of the systems they’ve built?

Then I spoke with representatives from GM, Ford, Renault/Nissan, and OnStar at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show about what happens after a crash. (I spoke with Tesla on a separate occasion, not at CES.) OnStar is only available for GM vehicles, and it does a great job of providing location information, plus data about the airbag, impact, and velocity — but nothing about the occupants inside the vehicles. Several other vehicle manufacturers had started talking about technologies to more directly engage fire and EMS agencies, but none has emerged from their labs. A representative from one OEM seemed unaware that emergency responders do not already collect information about the passengers before they arrive at the vehicle.

But we didn’t stop there. During the Startup Health Festival at the 2017 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, I asked an expert from Uber how big a problem crashes are to his company. The following quote was the bottom line on the matter, according to Jay Holley, who described himself to me as a founding member of the Uber for Business Enterprise Sales team:

“UBER runs 8 million rides each day, so the ‘one-in-a-million’ event happens to us eight times per day.”

Questions have been raised about focus at the fast-growing ridesharing technology companies. What if Uber, in addition to investing in autonomous and even flying cars, invested resources into improving the sophistication, intuitiveness, connectedness, and overall quality of its safety infrastructure? And what if the tech firm that can most expeditiously help it improve post-crash safety is the “smallest national player” in the prehospital care (i.e., fire and EMS) industry?

That would seem to be a story worth telling, even by the same business news outlets that are currently fixated on tearing down this Icarian firm. It would create a wonderful epilogue of innovation and partnership between a firm that has grown thanks to a capital infusion that is unprecedented among startups… and a firm that bootstrapped its way to a rare prize: profitability.

But forget all that — this is about the people involved. Imagine how brilliant an outcome it would be for every one of Uber’s riders and drivers if they could travel more comfortably and confidently, knowing that if a crash or medical crisis were to happen during a ride, the fire and emergency medical responders who arrived on-scene already had critical, potentially lifesaving details about the vehicle’s applicants… just like an Uber or Lyft is available when you need a ride. Unfortunately, such a connected “prehospital care” system isn’t in place now. But it will be. The Beyond Lucid Technologies team is making it happen.

Introducing HALYCON Post-Crash Intelligence.

Today, when fire and EMS arrive, all they know is that something occurred — they must be ready for anything. But what if you have a baby with you in the car? What if more than one ambulance is needed, because more than two people are injured? What if the stress of a car crash led to a secondary health crisis, like a stroke or heart attack? Today, EMS and fire agencies don’t get these details before they arrive at the vehicle. If they could, they could better prepare — in advance of arrival at the scene — to care for whomever is hurt. Ridesharing companies already know who’s driving, who’s riding, where they’re headed, and how the rider is paying. They know who is who.
Here’s a better story to tell: What if a ridesharing app could make all the difference after a motor vehicle crash,— even save your life —by knowing and conveying your health needs to emergency responders during such a critical moment? Check out the video below.

Interested in the science behind HALCYON Post-Crash Intelligence?

Download The Software Equivalent of a Seat Belt.” (pub. March 27, 2017)


Jonathon Feit is Co-Founder & CEO of Beyond Lucid Technologies, a health-and-safety IT firm that develops software to make emergency services and medical transportation safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective.

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