Mithun Parambath, Founder and CEO of 4Pilots, has set his aim on contributing to safety in the mobility sector with the help of advanced photon technology. Mithun’s idea for his venture came from the fact that many road accidents take place globally because of drivers who are not in the right conditions to drive safely (for example drunk, drowsy, sickness). Explaining the technology Mithun says “4Pilots provides AI driven IoT based stand-alone sleep and alcohol detectors for automotive drivers. Our device is a risk mitigation device targeted towards the insurance and logistics sector. Our hardware consists of IR cameras, IR source and IoT enabled microprocessors with inbuilt AI software, which detects sleep and alcohol from the facial features particularly the eyes and awakens the driver.”
The company is developing an image processing application with AI technology which is supposed to detect intoxicated drivers through a non-invasive camera based solution and hence could possibly replace the traditional method of breath testing. There are other applications of the product such as detection of overwhelming emotions that could put the driver and its passengers at risk. It will act as a preventive device for drowsiness and alcohol related road accidents, thereby reducing claims for insurance companies.
The journey started in 2018 when Mithun was pursuing his Postdoctoral research at the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology Jena. Mithun further describes “It is important to have like-minded co-founders on board. It’s not easy to find co-founders who share the same vision, wavelength and complement each other. I was fortunate to find co-founders who really have deep commitment to the vision and are willing to see it through many ups and downs. One of my co-founders, Dr. Humera Noor, was a postdoctoral researcher from TU Munich and is an expert in AI and computer vision. My other co-founder, Mr. Hannes Glaser, is an expert in Business Management and previously worked as a consultant at Jenvision. Great team of people come together to make great companies!”
4Pilots founding team pitched their idea to the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Applied Science Jena (EAH) and were the first startup to receive a grant under the University’s Kickstarter program. “It was a great moment to receive the kickstart funding. EAH Jena offers ideal conditions for starting up. There is a lot of support from the student community, professors and industry mentors and we can use the university infrastructure like IT and cloud support, designing and printing,” says Mithun.
The main objective of the startup is to make driving safer for everybody as well as minimise losses for mobility industries such as car sharing companies. Target customers are carpooling companies and the public transport sector. 4Pilots already has its first client on board and is running a pilot test with a car sharing company from Czech Republic. Establishing a proof of concept is underway and product testing is planned around September this year. The solution will help companies to know their customer before the ride starts and avoid accidents if the driver is drunk, drowsy or smoking. In the future when drivers become passengers in autonomous vehicles, 4Pilots is geared towards redefining the passenger experience by providing in-cabin data intelligence.
There have been several challenges along the way so far. Mithun adds “Starting a venture as a foreigner is not easy in Germany. There are language barriers. It is very important to have a native co-founder.” Also, raising funds was initially challenging for Mithun and his startup. “We had to reach out to many investors and had several meetings with relevant people in the industry and the startup ecosystem. Berlin is one of the fastest growing locations with a lot of support and opportunities for startups. We attended many networking events like Tech Open Air in Berlin and Startup Night in Cologne to make our product visible and receive feedback for product improvement,” he says. 4Pilots was selected as one of the finalists in the startup event conducted by HHL Digital Space – The Digital Transformation Platform at Leipzig. Mithun further says “Germany is a good place to do business, but the processes are bureaucratic. All transactions above EUR 1,000 need an approval. There are minimum 3 meetings required for getting things to move here.”
In the next step, 4Pilots is considering to expand its offering to India, given the potential and size of the market. There are around 500,000 accidents being reported annually. Mithun says “The Indian market has different needs and is cost sensitive. Pricing needs to be worked on and engineering needs to be tweaked. We are working on the research and developing a feasible business model for the Indian market”.
The journey from academics to entrepreneurship hasn’t been easy for Mithun, especially in the wake of the current situation. His co-founders are located in Munich and Jena. This has made the communication and coordination slightly difficult. “We are communicating through calls and online meetings. However, in-person meetings are more efficient,” Mithun says. The global Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the business activities of the young company as public mobility is affected since many offices have shifted to the “work-from-home” concept. Nevertheless, before ending the conversation, he mentions “Despite the challenges, we will continue to grow further and try to make mobility safer for everyone”.