Melbourne-based mobile phone camera technology company Acusensus (ASX: ACE) is poised to make a $100 million ASX debut this week with a first-to-market advantage that is capturing the attention of road safety enforcement agencies globally.
But for co-founder and CEO Alexander Jannink, the listing will be the culmination of a decade-long crusade that was triggered by the death of a friend at the hands of a distracted driver.
Acusensus, a company that proved its artificial intelligence (AI) technology to detect drivers illegally using phones in the world’s first live enforcement camera program in NSW, currently has major contracts for its mobile phone and seatbelt safety technology with the NSW, Queensland and ACT governments.
NSW also uses the company’s point-to-point speed detection system to gauge the average speed of motorists, which is among a suite of products either developed or being investigated by Acusensus to monitor poor driver behaviour.
The technology is still in its infancy in terms of deployment by government authorities, but Acusensus has been buoyed by a strong take-up in the three jurisdictions it currently services, leading to a revenue surge to $28.7 million in FY22 from $2.3 million just two years earlier.
Acusensus is forecasting revenue of $36.9 million in FY23 as it looks to expand its reach both domestically and internationally, with a focus on the US and Europe.
Jannink, an engineer who had previously spent years developing intelligent transportation systems and safety camera systems, teamed up with Ravin Mirchandani, the CEO of Ador Powertron, to found Acusensus in early 2018.
Mirchandani, who initially came on board as a seed investor in Acusensus and is now chairman, also had been bringing life-saving traffic safety equipment to India’s roads and highways through Ador Powertron.
Jannink tells Business News Australia the technology employed by Acusensus is the first of its kind in the world, and a huge step change from a technological perspective over the past five years.
“It’s easy now in 2023 to say that of course we can use AI to work out if someone is using a mobile phone in a car, but back in 2018 it was by no means obvious,” he says.
Jannink highlights two major catalysts for establishing Acusensus, adding the preliminary phase proved challenging when he first started exploring ways of modifying driver behaviour.
“The first catalyst was in 2013, when my friend James was run over and killed by somebody who was impaired. I was told they were texting.
“From that event, I coated the walls in my office with different ideas and interventions that I thought might have been able to have prevented his death. But they went nowhere for a few of years, so I parked a couple of them. By around 2015 and into 2016, I could see the change in road fatality trends after decades of decline.”
Jannink identifies the uptake of smartphones a decade ago as the trigger for the reversal of years of decline in road fatalities in countries such as Australia and the United States.
“I asked what had changed and I was convinced it was due to smartphones. The cars were getting better, road infrastructure was better, emergency services and hospital infrastructure was better, but road-user behaviour was the odd one out. It was just getting worse.
“The number of smartphones in circulation was rising exponentially in that period from 2013 onwards and this wasn’t really being talked about at the time.”
With Mirchandani’s seed funding, Jannink progressed the commercialisation of his AI technology and managed to secure the NSW Government as the first adopter of the cutting-edge technology.
“There is nobody else with equivalent technology to us,” says Jannink. “We’re trying to solve a global problem and we’ve demonstrated our technology in five continents through pilot programs.”
In its prospectus, Acusensus says it currently has a number of ‘material contracts and tender opportunities’ with government departments in Australia, as well as a contract for data collection in the US and India. Jannink sees The Netherlands as one of its most promising markets in Europe at present.
Acusensus’ revenue is services based, delivering recurring monthly revenue from clients.
“We build the cameras, we own them and then put them where the government wants us to and that can be on trailers, at fixed sites or in cars,” says Jannink.
“We certify the cameras, maintain them, and ensure the chain of custody, so whatever we record can be prosecuted in a court of law. We also provide the first level of human review of the data and then send it to our clients as confirmed evidence of drivers who aren’t obeying the road rules.
“We will absolutely not tie revenue to the number of offences because our goal is that nobody offends. We have a road safety goal.”
Acusensis is aiming to expand into more Australian states following successful results in NSW, which has been using the technology since July 2021.
“The need for this is right across Australia,” says Jannink.
“Most of Australia is moving towards enforcing mobile phone use. They’ve seen the success in NSW which has dropped the number of people using mobile phones sixfold.
“There has been a massive driver behaviour change in NSW and that has coincided with enormous road casualty reduction. NSW now has the safest road network in Australia in terms of the number of fatalities per capita. It wasn’t three years ago.”
The latest data shows that the road toll in NSW has fallen 18 per cent from a high of 352 deaths in 2019 to 288 last year.
Jannink sees global expansion providing a catalyst for growth for Acusensus, in addition to new product development that includes using AI to monitor driver fatigue and impairment from drugs and alcohol consumption.
“It’s the most challenging project we have in the research and development team,” he says. “We are looking for signs of driver attentiveness and at a snapshot we are trying to measure how impaired a driver may be from drugs, alcohol or fatigue to assist police operations.”
Acusencus is raising $20 million through its initial public offering (IPO), issuing five million shares at $4 each, valuing the company at just over $100 million. The company plans to use proceeds from the capital raise to advance research and development and to expand into international markets.
Jannink expects the US to become its biggest market should adoption of the technology take off there.
“We’ve got subsidiaries in the US and UK, and we’ve had a number of different demonstrations and trials in both regions,” he says.
Despite the prying nature of the Acusensus technology, Jannink says privacy remains an important consideration for the company.
“We have to keep the public on side with these programs. At the moment, there is very high public support for mobile phone use enforcement, something like 80 per cent.
“We’ve been very careful that we don’t store any images of drivers - we don’t maintain data bases.
“One of our challenges has been to find ways to build an AI system without holding a dataset. That’s been a key piece of research and development, and one of the ways we continually improve our technology.”
Acusensus shares are set tomake their ASX debut this Thursday, 12 January.
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