When there are no traffic jams to be reported on the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6), electronic signs display a message that reads (in Hebrew) “Safe tires save lives.” Most drivers glance at it and move on. But at least one — Israeli entrepreneur Kfir Wittmann — has heeded the message and created the TireCheck app, which he hopes will help save money, cut down on air pollution, and even save lives.
Many drivers don’t pay enough attention to their tires, said Wittmann: “It’s rare that drivers will check their air pressure every few months, much less every four weeks, as most user manuals recommend.”
Tire failure, a common consequence of ignoring your tires’ health, takes a toll of more than 8,000 dead or seriously injured in the US annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Besides saving lives, properly inflated tires reduce carbon emissions, and save drivers a significant amount of money; according to the US Department of Transportation, 2 billion gallons of fuel are wasted each year in the US due to low tire pressure.
Tire safety requires a proactive approach on the part of the driver — but because of the hassle factor, said Wittmann, it’s often the most ignored safety issue. You have to get down, get your hands dirty, and fumble with an alien-looking pressure gauge. Besides, tires can look okay until it’s too late and their owners are forced to change a flat on the side of a busy highway, or worse.
After returning to Israel from China, where he worked as manager of a factory, Wittmann considered the issue of tire safety — something he had been very concerned with as an IDF officer and engineer — and came to the conclusion that the easier he made it to check tire pressure, the more likely people would be to do so. Thus, in 2011, he established Neomatix, which provides an electro-optic tire monitoring system for vehicle fleets, based on computer vision technology. The system is built around Intel’s Open Computer Vision (OpenCV) library, which includes 3D recognition technology, allowing the two-dimensional image you photograph with your iPhone to be analyzed as if it were inside the servers at Neomatix. Wittmann is employing the same technology for TireCheck.
You use the free (currently for iPhone, soon for Android) TireCheck app to take a photo of your vehicle’s tires, which is then uploaded to servers at Neomatix. Using specially developed algorithms, said Wittmann, the system analyzes the state of each tire (based on a number of factors, including its height and erosion level), and spits back recommendations on which tires are underinflated or overinflated (a more common problem than most people realize, said Wittmann), along with a message about how much money a driver is losing by driving around with incorrectly inflated tires. The app can also direct you to nearby service stations, where you can inflate them to the proper pressure.
While you could, theoretically, get the same information out of a tire gauge, or just go to the gas station and use the air hose to fill up your tires (listening for the beep sound that indicates that the tires are properly filled), Wittmann said that most people wouldn’t do it. With TireCheck, they have the opportunity to check on their tires’ safety in a less onerous and burdensome manner. Why take a chance or get yourself dirty messing around with tires when you don’t have to, said Wittmann.
Not that you don’t have to work a bit with TireCheck as well. Getting the initial image just right could take a few minutes, but the app, which has been translated into 16 languages, comes with a very extensive tutorial and guide that walks you through the process. There’s no equipment to lug around and attach, and the app supplies better information than that provided by the tire pressure monitoring systems available in many new vehicles. Unlike those, “we inform the driver of the exact tire status, which tires are affected, the impact of improper pressure on the vehicle performance and all the necessary information to help take corrective action,” Wittmann said.
Wittmann wouldn’t say how many downloads the app has gotten in the iTunes store, but he’s happy with the progress so far. The iPhone app is geared toward “consumer” drivers, and the Neomatix team is developing a version of TireCheck for their fleet customers too. Besides the money Wittmann and his partners put into the business, they have also raised about $500,000 from the Tel Aviv Angel Group, and with the app’s introduction the company is looking for more funding in order to expand. Revenue options include advertising, a “freemium” model (where Neomatix charge for upgraded services) and especially the development of “white label” versions of the app for insurance companies, tire sellers, car makers, and other companies promoting tire safety.
“TireCheck introduces a completely new approach to checking tire pressure,” said Wittmann “and we hope that turning this tedious task into a fun and cool experience will promote awareness, improve road safety, and be good for the environment.”