When you get cut off by a reckless driver, what’s your best recourse? A beep of the horn, flash of the high beams or flick of the middle finger might offer fleeting satisfaction. But that nut job of a driver is still on the road.
Nexar wants to change that by giving people the power to slap a digital scarlet letter on hazardous drivers. The Israeli company launched its same-name app into public beta at the Code Conference today.
As you drive around, Nexar runs on your iPhone, which has to be propped up on your car’s dashboard. The idea is that the phone’s rear-facing camera has a clear view of the street and cars ahead. If any kind of incident occurs — like cars speeding past, someone cutting you off or anything that causes you to suddenly slam on the brakes — a Nexar prompt automatically appears on the phone screen.
For now, these app alerts are mostly visual with a subtle audio cue, but the company will continue to explore alerts that use more audio and gestures.
If you tap your screen to give the okay, the Nexar app will automatically capture footage from 20 seconds before the incident and 10 seconds after (when you start driving, the app detects your car movement and turns on to start recording unless you say otherwise). That footage is then sent to Nexar to compile in a database.
Along with footage of the incident, Nexar simultaneously captures the license plate number of the at-fault car; the app “sees” this plate number using machine vision. Eventually, Nexar plans to start flashing the license plate numbers of repeat offenders in red across the bottom of your app screen as you drive around.
“This is an outrageous invasion of the privacy of bad drivers,” Re/code’s Walt Mossberg said (after colleague Katie Boehret noted his questionable driving).
If someone is designated as a “bad driver” and they’re using the app, they’ll receive an alert that another user has called them out. But Nexar CEO Eran Shir has said that the company can’t download your driving history data because it’s yours and only visible to you; Nexar simply extracts data from it to use in its catalog.
Another obvious concern is whether using the app will cause more distraction while driving. In a pre-interview, Shir said that he focused on that issue when he created the company.
“I don’t want your attention,” Shir said. “I want your attention on the road.” He described Nexar’s user interface as the most important part of the app, and said that wherever your finger lands on your phone screen, that’s where the app interface — a dial with just a few icons for reporting an event — appears.
“We want the UI to be dynamic so it can adapt to you, rather than the other way around,” Shir said.
Nexar is different than typical GPS-reliant apps like Waze, the Google-owned navigation app that crowdsources driving data to show alerts for things like accidents and speed traps. GPS hogs your smartphone’s battery; Nexar takes into account sensors like your phone’s gyroscope, accelerometer and compass and from that, interprets location data and other information. According to Shir, this method reduces the amount of time and frequency that the app needs GPS.
The CEO added that Nexar wasn’t possible three years ago because phones weren’t powerful enough to offer robust machine vision and sensor fusion. Now, he says, on-device deep learning is a reality.
Nexar is free to download and use. It’s launching first in Los Angeles, as well as Tel Aviv, where the company is based. It’s also only available on iOS to start. Nexar has no immediate plans to expand to Android, though Shir says this will come after the company proves its value.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.