Canadian Insurer Backs Autonomous Car Startup in Florida Retirement Community

(Bloomberg) -- There’s a village in Florida where self-driving cars rule the road, and a Canadian insurance firm wants to come along for the ride.

Toronto-based Intact Financial Corp. is investing $3 million in startup Voyage as the companies seek to shape the future of driverless-car insurance.

Voyage runs a dozen self-driving cars in The Villages in Florida, one of the largest retirement communities in the U.S. It’s located north of Orlando with more than 750 miles of road and 125,000 people who call it home. The autonomous taxis are outfitted with Lidar sensors that help the car navigate by creating a 3-D map of the road to identify objects like other cars, cyclists and pedestrians. They cruise around the privately-owned roads, picking up residents on demand. Voyage, which has a similar project in its hometown of San Jose, California, plans to expand its fleet over the next few years.
 
As part of the project, each of Voyage’s driverless cars will send information it collects to Intact to interpret at its machine learning division. Intact’s lab, with 50 employees based primarily in Montreal, will assess the data to create a real-time risk profile based on the immediate environment to structure, underwrite, and price insurance products. The less dangerous the driving situation at any given moment, the lower the insurance charge -- and vice versa.
 
"We’re trying to understand what our cars see of the world and what our cars understand of the world," said Oliver Cameron, chief executive officer of Voyage. "Let’s say we’ve got an increasing amount of pedestrians crossing the road and there’s a downtown intersection with people and cars pulling into the street from different directions. Given that the car is seeing more chaos, the rates would rise just that little bit."

Driverless vehicles are transforming the transportation industry as ride-sharing services like Uber Technologies Inc., the established car rental companies and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo jockey for position. And as more such cars hit the road, it could lead to fewer accidents, thereby threatening existing auto insurance models, where revenue from premiums totaled $230 billion in 2017.
 
"We know that self-driving vehicles will emerge and have an impact on every industry in the future and insurance is no exception," said Karim Hirji, senior vice president at Intact Ventures, the company’s research and innovation division.

While Hirji believes that autonomous vehicles will make the roads safer for passengers and pedestrians, driverless cars won’t appear in most cities and communities any time soon.

"It’s hard to have a forecast, but I think we’re still at least 10 years away before we could see a large number of these cars on public roads," Hirji said. "And even then, it could be debatable on whether they’ll only be in specific areas, like urban areas."

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