The Drive for Perfection

A Slovenian-based high-tech startup has been developing a complex and self-learning driving test simulator with the aim of measuring conscious and unconscious driver behavior features to make driving safer and more inclusive.

Man driving car, hand on steering wheel, looking at the road ahead,sunset.
Photo: BalanceFormCreative / stock.adobe.com

Imagine driving in a simulator with a view similar to that of a GTA game – full of real-life features and constant challenges. The Nervtech driving simulator experience forces the driver to make quick and difficult decisions, based on which it collects over 2000 aspects of their driving.

The story behind the Nervtech

The Slovenian startup has been around for ten years, constantly improving the driving simulator and enriching the scope of users. The CEO, Matej Vengust, whose background is in marketing and project management, gathered a team of engineers, academics, and psychologists to enrich and promote the product. While finding video footage or an interview with Vengust is complex, Dr. Jaka Sodik, one of the key engineers, shared his experience in a talk a few years ago.

Sodik recalled how he came across two men developing the simulator initially intended for the racing experience. As Nervtech grew, it saw the need to address the human factor in driving. Although most of those with a driving license probably drove on a simulator before driving the car, the Nervtech can reveal many features that take place unconsciously. The company currently has over EUR 300K in funding and employs around 20 people.

Nervtech aims to resolve several driving issues, Sodik admitted in a talk. For instance, insurance companies do not tend to trust young drivers and make them pay high fees for driving insurance and car rental. Yet not every young driver behaves the same on the road. In this context, the driving simulator has become a must for specific insurance programs that aim to test the behavior of their clients. Not everybody who sits behind the wheel drives, honestly. Yet often, the incentives of passing the test force the users to drive casually.

Nervtech represents the only alternative for insurance companies towards clients. As Sodik explained, there are several smartphone apps that the companies require drivers to use, but these are easy to cheat on. If a driver starts the app when driving on the highway, the behavior it tracks does not exemplify his overall driving. As illustrated, similar technology may be out there, but none is as reliable as the challenging driving simulator where cheating is hard.

The challenge remains reducing the number of deaths due to car accidents in the European Union. Unfortunately, the goal to significantly reduce the number by 2022 has not been achieved, as serious car accidents continue to be reported frequently across the EU.

How does it work?

The process may seem very simple at first. The user sits behind the wheel and drives for 20-25 minutes with a measuring device on his head. As indicated, over 2000 features are collected by the AI, which learns from every new driving experience. The short drive contains as many driving challenges as the number of minutes a ride takes. Reaction time, aggression, and ecological driving aspects are just a few measured aspects. If required, they can be specified in a report after the ride.  

Nervtech has managed to adjust the visual setting to multiple real-life places. It started with Ljubljana, then moved on to London, and has since simulated the driving environment in the US, Dubai, and perhaps Japan, with which Sodik said it had been in conversation. Some of the settings are adjusted to fit the requirements of the car companies that have been equally keen on making use of the high-tech driving simulator.

The road ahead

The successful startup wants to continue testing different groups of drivers and embark on new cooperation worldwide to ameliorate the product. Last year, it even engaged the patients of the University Rehabilitation Institute in the town of Roča. The aim was to find solutions for those unable to drive due to physical limitations. At the same time, the AI and machine learning technology in use, which learns from the users, is wanted by companies such as Uber. The desire is to move towards more autonomous vehicle transportation, which would account for several current limitations.

Martin Hochel

Martin Hochel comes from Bratislava, Slovakia, and has also lived in Belgium and the UK. He holds a BA in history and politics from Birkbeck College, University of London and is currently studying for his masters at the Central European University in Vienna in nationalism studies. Martin also works as a junior analyst at the Government Office of the Slovak Republic. In his free time, he likes to read, play the piano, and travel.

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