Small Business & Startups and Technology

Startup to test alert system in GR

Chicago-based HAAS Alert plans to deploy first digital emergency alert platform, connecting police, fire, EMS.

December 14, 2018
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Grand Rapids will be ground zero for a Chicago tech startup’s plan to deploy the first digital emergency vehicle alert system of its kind, connecting police, fire and EMS alerts on one platform.

HAAS Alert plans to deploy a complete citywide digital alert solution in partnership with the Grand Rapids Police Department, Fire Department and EMS. The pilot will test real-time notifications to drivers when responders are en route to a call or on-scene via Responder-to-Vehicle (R2V) technology.

PlanetM, the mobility arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, is funding the pilot. The agency announced an open application for the grant in August and received over 30 applications between the open date and Oct. 1.

PlanetM Operations Manager Amanda Roraff said HAAS Alert will deploy the first R2V system of its kind in Grand Rapids, where police, fire and EMS are connected on the same platform.

“We’re really excited to deploy in West Michigan and, particularly, Grand Rapids,” Roraff said.

For HAAS Alert CEO Cory Hohs, the push to develop an interconnected alert system was personal. About five years ago, he himself was almost hit by an emergency vehicle while on a motorcycle.

“Five or six years ago, the technology wasn’t there,” Hohs said. “Now with smart city-connected infrastructure, we work with emergency vehicle service fleets, and we pull their information when they’re in response mode.”

HAAS Alert plans to launch the pilot in Grand Rapids within the next couple of months, but this isn’t the Chicago-based company’s first introduction to the area. About a year ago, Hohs and his team ran an early pilot with the Grand Rapids Fire Department, which they were introduced to via Start Garden.

“We had just walked into the Grand Rapids Fire Station, and they were interested in working with us, providing feedback, market learnings … ride-alongs, trying to understand the world of a firefighter. That was kind of where that had begun,” Hohs said.

The R2V system delivers alerts to drivers, not at the last minute, but at least a half-mile from where emergency vehicles are, giving plenty of time to react safely.

“If you think about the onboard sensors on vehicles today, those are all very last minute,” Hohs said. “As opposed to collision avoidance, we do collision pre-emption.”

Based on conversations he’s had with first responders, Hohs said the most difficult part of their job is often civilian motorists and added there are more than 60,000 collisions involving an emergency vehicle in the U.S. every year.

Besides being a major cause of injury and death to first responders, the damage to emergency vehicles can be costly to local municipalities.

“It’s not only death and injuries, which of course that’s terrible,” Hohs said, “but the collisions are very expensive. Fire vehicles can cost over $1 million. Police vehicles now are outfitted with very expensive innovations. This hits the taxpayer’s pocket.”

PlanetM awarded HAAS Alert close to $75,000 in grant money to run a pilot for a minimum of four months.

HAAS Alert also is working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing ride-hailing drivers to deliver safety messages. Since receiving the grant from PlanetM, HAAS Alert has received multiple requests from DHH drivers wanting to provide input on what such a service would look like.

HAAS Alert is in the process of forming a focus group for DHH drivers to convey what they want in a vehicle alert system.

Hohs said HAAS Alert’s R2V system currently gives updates and alerts through standard messaging. If a vehicle’s in-dash navigation supports it, alerts show up on the screen.

“What we are doing is asking our DHH drivers if it’s a good user experience for them,” Hohs said. “You have a lot more DHH ride-share drivers on the road today. They run into more roadway issues.”

At the end of the pilot, the city of Grand Rapids still will own the R2V system, Hohs said. He hopes the success of the pilot would lead to increased interest from other agencies in the state of Michigan.

“There are better solutions than adding brighter lights and louder sirens,” Hohs said. “We’re hoping this leads to more funding opportunities to provide this for other emergency response fleets. We’re always looking for creative solutions for smaller emergency fleets to be on the HAAS alert platform.”

During the pilot phase, PlanetM will coordinate with NextEnergy, a Detroit-based nonprofit focused exclusively on accelerating technology in the mobility sector.

At the end of the pilot, NextEnergy will collect the findings and report the outcome of the program to PlanetM.

PlanetM also awarded grants to two other startups. Humanising Autonomy will collaborate with Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to test bus driver alerts in an effort to help predict pedestrian, cyclists and vulnerable road user actions.

RoadBotics, an infrastructure technology company specializing in using artificial intelligence to generate automated pavement condition data, will implement its AI pavement inspection technology into Detroit’s roads. The goal is to analyze the condition of the city’s 2,600-mile road network and build a data-driven pavement management strategy for the city.

The three grants totaled approximately $224,000.

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