Samsung, Nationwide, and GE just invested in A.I. startup Nexar

Nationwide Insurance, GE, and one of Samsung’s investment arms have invested $52 million in Nexar, a maker of software that alerts drivers to road hazards like potholes and helps with auto insurance claims.

The funding, announced Thursday, pushes the amount the five-year-old Israeli company has raised to a total of $100 million. Nexar declined to comment on its new valuation, but a source familiar with the deal said the value is $272 million, including the new money put into the startup.

Nexar’s computer vision software alerts drivers to help them avoid accidents or receive updates on traffic problems like blocked lanes ahead. The company does so by partnering with third-party dashboard-camera makers like Scosche Industries to use its software.

Nexar’s technology then taps deep learning—run on people’s smartphones that are wirelessly connected to their car cameras—to recognize objects in the road. For example, when the camera sees a stop sign, drivers receive an alert informing them that they’re approaching this traffic sign.

People can also link their Nexar accounts to their insurance providers to speed up the claims process. For instance, they can send video of an accident, along with information like the time, date, and location of the collision, without having to fill out a lot of paperwork.

This idea of using A.I. to create insurance reports is being explored by several insurance companies like China’s Ping An, as Fortune detailed last summer. Indeed, Nexar also said that Japanese giant Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance (MSI), which was not among its investors, has also partnered with Nexar to help it expand in Japan. 

Nexar CEO Eran Shir said the company also sells data it collects from its users to mapping companies and municipalities, an idea that’s integral to so-called smart-city projects. Las Vegas, for instance, uses the startup’s service to collect information about the impact of traffic congestion on the city, among other uses, Shir said.

However, privacy advocates are worried about private companies giving governments access to powerful surveillance technologies. In response, Shir said Nexar obscures personally identifying information like license plate numbers when providing data to governments. But security researchers say that even anonymized data is dangerous because it can be combined with other information to provide a fuller picture.

As for the coronavirus pandemic’s impact, Shir said that Nexar has noticed a drop in driving activity over the past few months because of nationwide shelter-in-place orders. The startup may have also lucked out with its fundraising, which began last fall, before the coronavirus took its toll on businesses and investing.

“In a sense I think what you see is a lot of hesitation in the seed level, A-round-level, and obviously there’s a lot of turmoil in the public markets,” Shir said. 

Corner Ventures was Nexar’s lead investor for its latest deal. Other investors included La Maison, Micron Ventures, Sompo, Atreides Management, Aleph, Mosaic Ventures, and Ibex Ventures. 

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