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Airport shuttles may be getting safer thanks to this self-driving startup

SuperShuttle will be the first commercial fleet to be equipped with self-driving startup Driversiti’s technology.

Las Vegas Traffic Ethan Miller / Getty

Your ride to the airport may be getting safer, thanks to a new partnership between self-driving and safety startup Driversiti and SuperShuttle parent company Transdev.

Transdev, which is also an early investor in Driversiti, is a global company that operates everything from private car services to shuttles to rail and streetcar services. Its subsidiary SuperShuttle operates airport shuttle fleets in more than 40 cities in the U.S. and seven international cities.

Though a transportation company implementing safety technology may not sound like a big deal, in the context of Driversiti’s ambitions it’s a significant step toward the self-driving future. And that future requires an abundance of data and an effective way to communicate that data in real time.

Over the next six months, Driversiti will be equipping SuperShuttles across the U.S. with its safety analytics software. The software, which uses sensors that are already built into iPhones and tablets, captures real-time driving behavior that can be later used to train or warn against specific unsafe driving habits. SuperShuttle will become the first commercial fleet to use Driversiti’s software.

An example of Driversiti’s analytics platform.

Driversiti, which has raised a total of $8.26 million from the likes of Verizon and Lerer Hippeau Ventures, is among the many startups looking to outperform automakers on creating a piece of the larger self-driving system.

To do that, the company is leveraging a device that consumers already have: Their smartphones.

While for now that amounts to Driversiti working with commercial fleets to make them safer using their analytics software, down the road Driversiti hopes its software will help self-driving cars communicate with each other and detect pedestrians.

For example, the company’s software will be able to detect when a car several cars ahead stops abruptly or gets into an accident; it will then alert other cars equipped with the software so it can stop and pull off the road as needed.

Since the company is building off existing tools in smartphones, Driversiti can get the newest technology into people’s cars long before automakers, given the long production cycles of new cars.

But even when self-driving cars become ubiquitous and are equipped with this kind of safety and communication technology, Driversiti CEO and founder Sascha Simon says the company is still at an advantage. That’s because a Driversiti-equipped smartphone will act as a portable beacon so self-driving cars can detect and avoid or otherwise interact with people.

Driversiti isn’t the only startup leveraging existing tools in smartphones — like the GPS and accelerometers — to detect driving behavior. According to Simon, though, it is the only one that works with or without being connected to the internet.

“All other software out there is using the phone as a passive data-gathering device and then does cloud interpretation of the data, which makes it not valuable from a standpoint of safety,” Simon told Recode.

Driversiti’s future hinges on the company’s ability to integrate its software into as many phones as possible. While many transportation startups endeavor to one day become acquired by an automaker, Driversiti doesn’t want to be restricted to working with a single player, according to Simon. So the best — though not by any means easier — route would be to have phone carriers integrate the company’s software in the backend.

For now, however, the company is focused on two things: Making money while chasing its self-driving ambitions and getting its software into as many cars as possible. The company’s partnership with Transdev falls into both those categories.

With Simon, the former head of advanced product planning at Mercedes Benz, at the helm, Driversiti has also added Toyota Financial Services CFO Chris Ballinger to their board.

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