The InsureTech Geek Episode 32: Keeping Drivers Alert with an App with Demetrius Thompson from Global Mobile Alert
The InsureTech Geek podcast, powered by JBKnowledge, is all about technology that is transforming and disrupting the insurance world. We will be interviewing guests and doing deep dives into specific technologies that we see changing the industry. We are taking you on a journey through insurance tech, so, enjoy the ride and geek out!
JAMES: Another week, another week, another day. Rob, your kids are in school now! Like in the buildings.
ROB: Correct. They are, it is crazy. They are actually in there with their laptop and their headphones. So, they are still virtual, but they are off of my Wi-Fi. So that is what I kind of like.
JAMES: So, they are at the building, but they are separated in virtual?
ROB: They are. It is like you have four to six kids a class. And they are not all in the same classroom and they are joining their classmates that are at home. So, they are all still doing the zoom meeting, but they are doing it in the building.
JAMES: What a strange hybrid. It is wild because it is like every school district has done a grab bag of its own strategy on this. There is no one way of doing it. Maybe it is like the ultimate research study to see which one works the best or something. Who knows? My kids are, of course, they are their full–time face to face class, of course, masked up all day. But they have been enjoying it. I think they are a month into school now, of face to face school and it has been successful, and they are having a good a year so far. They are happy to be out of the house and out of dad’s hair.
And with us, today from beautiful Southern California, usual not smoky. I do not know if it is a smoky day to day or not. But he is from the Los Angeles area. Demetrius Thompson. DT, Good to have you on the show.
DT: Thank you for having me. How are you today?
JAMES: Outstanding. Is the smoke still covering the area or is it a pretty clear day today?
DT: I have not looked out of my window.
JAMES: You do not even know.
ROB: This is a true entrepreneur.
JAMES: Exactly. His head is down; and he is working, man. It has been interesting in California. Of course, our thoughts and prayers to everybody out there on the West coast. It looks like the Oregon fire was 100% contained, so there are some interesting developments all over the place. But it has been an interesting time for anybody in fire insurance, for sure. I know they always monitor this pretty closely. For all our listeners out there today, we are going to be talking about distracted driving and of course, we know that has a huge impact.
Before we jump into that topic. I just want to remind you. You can subscribe to the InsureTech Geek podcast by texting GeekOut to 66866. Just text GeekOut to 66866. We will get you on our weekly emailer so you can get the show notes and the link to the video and the audio. That is right. We are video now. So, you can watch a video of the show. And just make sure you never miss an episode. Back to our guest, DT from Global Mobile Alert.
DT, you have got a fascinating background. I just want to briefly talk about you, and then jump into talking about your company. I want to talk about your inventions. I want to talk about patents. I want to talk about safety, right? The big topic is safety. Before we jump into that, let us talk about you for a second. You are from Cali, but then you were raised in Seattle, which makes you a Seahawks fan!
JAMES: We had a little talk about the 12th man. The 12th man to the Seahawks, 12th man of Texas A&M, our little connection there. But when you were growing up, what did you imagine yourself doing? And then how did you end up in Global Mobile Alert corporation starting that?
DT: I ran away from home.
DT: Really. I ran away from home and moved to Seattle and my brother told me I had a week to get a job, and I got a job, and I became a concert promoter, and I worked in timeshare. Did whatever I could to pay the bills. Then I started managing artists and we started booking some of the real big names that were local grunge bands back in the day. And I used to work at a club called Under the Rail, on 5th Avenue. It was under the Seattle monorail. And that was a unique experience. And then I got hit by a car. I was on my way to the bank doing a deposit based on a project that we did with an artist by the name of George Clinton from Funkadelic.
JAMES: Yeah. We know who George Clinton is. The P-Funk All–Stars, right?
DT: Yeah. I got hit by a car and that was a really painful experience. So, I said, that is where the idea started, it was a painful idea. And then a year later, after going back and forth to court, I got hit again. And this time I was in a car and we were at a traffic light and there was a guy behind us in a car. And he had a Pitbull in the car, and a fire truck passed by him, and when the fire truck was passing by, the dog was barking. And when I looked up, I was a passenger by the way in that car. And I looked up and I looked back behind me, the dog was going crazy and he disappeared, fell on the guy’s foot. The guy’s foot hit the gas and he slammed into the car. And I started having anxiety, and I just started thinking of a way to come up with a solution.
And that was in, you know, a couple of years later. And, I had this dream. Really. I had this dream, I was walking… No, I was talking on a cell phone driving, and I walked out in front of myself and saw myself, but something made the car stop. So, I became obsessed with trying to figure out what that was. A couple of years later, I was in Santa Monica, walking down the street and they had that chirping sound for the visually impaired. And that was what I heard in my sleep. Paid a friend of mine some money to write the source code. And when he wrote the source code, he wrote it for this device.
ROB: That is a beauty.
JAMES: Oh man!
DT: The phones did not have GPS. It did not have Wi-Fi. We had to put an external GPS, hook it up to a server and it worked. And then we went to the city of LA and got traffic data with latitude and longitude, put that onto a compact server, drove down the street, made a phone call, and it gave us an alerted traffic light. And the rest is history.
JAMES: Now, for those of you who are not watching this on video, DT just held up a Pocket PC. I love going old school. I love bringing it way back. And you just brought it way back. This was a device from the early two 2000s that of course did not even have the most basic of chips that exist now in mobile devices. But it did allow you to develop somewhat on Windows mobile operating system. You know Windows mobile, 5, 6, 6.1, 6.5. Of course, Windows CE, which was pretty challenging, I had to develop code for a lot of these platforms, and let us just put it this way, it was a lot harder back in the day than it is now.
So, you had this Pocket PC, and now you have got a beautiful mobile app that runs on Android and iOS. Obviously, mobile app development now is totally different when you originally started this. I would be remiss to keep talking and not just mention the fact that you intersected George Clinton and the P-Funk All–Stars. I am from South Louisiana. My most famous intersections, I got to have dinner with B.B. King one time, which I will always hold on to for the rest of my life. And I am a huge fan of the 90’s Seattle Grunge scene. So, I just want to throw it out there that Nirvana and Chris Cornell and everybody associated with them is a huge deal. So, I just want to give you a shout out for having some really awesome intersections there. And of course, that is where the idea was born, was literally on the streets of Seattle. You getting hit twice, birthed this idea.
I mean, most people do not get hit once by vehicle, but twice, kind of drove the point home for you. So, you have almost 18 years ago, or maybe it is 15 years ago, you have this PalmPilot-based device, with an external GPS, and it works. It works. What has been the evolution since then? Cause you have five patents now I believe. You have done a lot of work in intellectual property development. How has this idea evolved over the last 15 years?
DT: Well my lawyers always say it is 10 years before you get a date of success. So basically, I just focused on the technology and the innovation and waited for the industry to catch up. Our main goal is to do safe driver discounts, meaning we are trying to connect this with insurance companies and bundle this with other programs that they have available. And then, for a driver to use this, they will get a safe driver‘s discount.
DT: That is our main goal.
JAMES: Yeah. If they drive safely, right? I mean, there is always that caveat whenever we say that. It is like, if you know you are a bad driver, you are going to avoid this type of technology cause you are actually going to get dinged on your premium. But a lot of people want to reduce their insurance premiums. And so, there is a lot of incentive for them to use your technology and to drop their premium down, right?
DT: Correct. Because in most cases, would not you want to know that you are getting ready to have an accident?
DT: That is the question. It is like a doorbell. If you are watching a game and Rob and I are getting ready to come to your house, and you have turned the TV up really loud, if we ring the doorbell, you are going to hear the door. You are going to get up and answer it. So, therefore, if you drive in a car and you are distracted and you hear that alert like a doorbell, you are going to respond and pay attention. It is basic common sense.
JAMES: Yeah. Actually, Rob has a really great question about just how this technology works. You know, what the app is all about. Rob?
ROB: Yeah, DT. I just wanted to kind of have you walk us through. Obviously, things like iPhone, I assume it is the same with Android, they kind of tell on your emotion, like you have to click on it today to say, oh, I am not driving or whatnot. They have some very limited functionality, but your company has a lot more robust functionality. So, I am just going to have you walk people through the distracted driver alert app. What are all the technologies, what are all the things that you are integrated with? How does it work?
DT: Basically, we use GPS right now. We are available in 147 countries globally today. 7 different regions around the world. We are in 9 different languages. I have only been to Canada.
ROB: That is incredible.
DT: So, my bucket list is to go to 147 countries before I die. I would like to be able to see this technology work in every country. Our next goal is to either embed or preload these into mobile devices and also In-Car infotainment system. The way the technology works today is on your app, you can download it, it is free. So, you can download it free up until I am going to say November, maybe December 31st, then I am going to start charging for it. But right now, it is about getting the people to use it, have that user experience, feel comfortable with it, pass it onto their kids, and make sure everybody gets home safe. And so, we have alert modes where you can say traffic light in a male voice or a female voice. I used two of my best friends. One of them is Mike Mann. He is the production director for a radio station called KJLH, which is owned by Stevie Wonder. And Aundrae Russell. She also is like the morning producer for the Steve Harvey morning show. Her voice is also one of the voices on the app. You can get alerts of a visual, you can get an audible alert. It is just a great product. And it all came to me as a vision. So, the only way it is going to be a success, is it people like you, use it.
ROB: DT I just wanted to follow up. You mentioned traffic lights. I know you do stuff with school zones and other stuff. So what are some of the hazards you mentioned that is based on GPS, but, maybe you can just kind of go through that list of things that the app is aware of too, kind of let you know about as you might be going down the highway?
DT: If it is a traffic light, (warning of traffic light and beeping sound playing), school, (sound of school bell ringing), or railroad crossing (sound of a train horning). So, it gives you those alerts when you are on a voice call. Only when you are on a voice call. So, if you are driving down the street… But you can set it to continuous mode. Say you are driving home at 3 a.m., and you are really tired from work, and you want to stay awake and alert, this thing will alert you at every light, every hazard. It will be annoying, but it keeps you awake. But it mainly only works when you are on a voice call.
JAMES: And so, its goal is to interrupt your distraction because there have been studies that even if you are hands–free, talking on a voice call, you are still distracted because you are on a voice call. It does not matter if both hands are on the steering wheel and your eyes are straight ahead. You are still talking on a voice call. You are engaged in that. And so, the goal is to interrupt that voice call and to keep you aware of what is coming up. So, you have traffic lights, you have railroad crossings, you got school zones. What about speed limits or are there like over max speed?
DT: That is not my patent. That is somebody else’s patent.
JAMES: Yeah. So, the app has really geared around like three major things that they need to pay attention to. The traffic light at intersections. So, this does not lock... Does this lock their phone out as well when they are driving or is it just for alerts?
DT: Just the alerts.
JAMES: Okay. Yeah. And, so I noticed in your LinkedIn post a few days ago, when you talked about this particular feature set, you made a clear distinction between Google and their announcement that they’re adding features to alert Google maps, users of traffic lights, and terrain changes in the United States. And you say, hey, they have got that yes, but Global Mobile Alert has 1.5 million signal lights, 476,000 schools, 850,000 rail crossings in the database and of course 147 countries. And so, is that the key differentiator between what you are seeing Google maps rollout, is that you have an enhanced database and you are global, and they are only rolling out in the US?
DT: I think we are all open to collaborations and community, and we are all working together to come up with a positive solution. So, Google is not the only company that is doing this. Do you know what I am saying? There’s Apple, there’s Tom-Tom, everybody is trying to do it. But it is basically who can do it best. And I think we are doing it best. So, it would make sense for a company like Google to work with a company GMA.
JAMES: Yeah. Walk me through the insurance play because say the safe driver programs are really geared around tracking all of the activity on that driver from the OBD II port. They are pulling the data feed off the car, they are tracking the acceleration, the breaking, the GS on turning, they are tracking a lot of behavior of the driver, and how many miles that driver’s driving. Certainly, you are not replicating that. Are you bringing in an alerting system into their existing app? Is that how this really works when you are dealing with a major insurance carrier where you are saying, hey, we are going to bring the alert layer into your existing safe driver app?
DT: Correct. And it is basically, it is like just a bundle. So, we are basically offering a bundle. And a lot of people, a lot of these organizations, they have great products, but then also they have flaws. So, if they did not have flaws, I would not be here. And everybody knows what everybody else is doing. And my goal is to get home safe, and that is whether it is me driving, or the other person driving, needs to have an alert, because, can you imagine driving down the street and you see a guy on the phone and all you see is the top of his head coming at you at 85 miles an hour, and he is not paying attention to you? In most cases, every time a person on a cell phone has an accident, 70% of the time they live. 100% of the time, the person that they hit, dies.
JAMES: Yeah, those are sobering statistics, right?
DT: It is sad.
JAMES: Yeah. Walk me through the data. So, you have years of usage now. How much safer are people when they are using an alerting system like GMA?
DT: We are focusing on building out that statistical data right now, so I do not have it. So, I am not going to make up something. I do not have that information.
JAMES: Okay. In your initial trials, did you study the user behavior? In your initial beta test or when you had users start to use it, what behavioral changes did you notice?
DT: I only focused on mine.
DT: I use myself and my friends. It was basically me and my friends. We got together, they drove around, they used it. They said, man, you got to put that is on the market. You got to put this on the market. And so, what happened was, we were going to collaborate with a mobile provider who was launching an operating system without saying their name, but they happen to get purchased by the company who was giving them the operating system, and everybody lost their job. So, therefore, I said, you know what? I am just going to focus on the technology, and when they are ready, the industry will come to me, instead of me going to them. It is horrible to go to somebody and pitch something and they do not know what to do with you. So, if they do not know what to do with you, nothing is going to happen. So, it is best to just continue to develop your technology, grow your company, and then when they realize like, hey, this guy has what we want, let us go talk to him. That will make it worthwhile. In the meantime, I am independent, I am giving it away for free. And that is just the way it is.
JAMES: Awesome. Rob?
ROB: Yeah, DT. I love the fact that you have really been ahead of the game for 15 years now. Unfortunately, right through the tragic circumstances, that kind of launched you down this path, but I love the fact that you have kind of made this a career mission, and it is just pretty incredible how long have you been in this space. Walk me through a little bit of some of the technological advancements. Obviously, we were talking about even the pre iPhone technology. You mentioned earlier In-car entertainment systems, which are a whole bowl of different wax, so, just from your perspective, what are some of those technological milestones that have happened over the past decade? And do you think we are a lot closer to making your original vision a reality now that we have so much access and so much more technology and that distracted driving are more widely recognized as a big problem?
DT: Yeah, I think is it is a consumer problem. Okay. Because even though we have a pandemic called COVID right, no matter what, people are going to pay their phone bills. So, it does not matter. They don’t care, because, and I’m not negatively saying this, but if I were to die from using this phone before the coroner pick me up, which takes like normally 6 or 7 hours for the morgue to pick you up from where you’re lying, the cell phone industry just sold another 50,000 to 200,000 phones. So, it does not balance it, it does not weigh out. You have never seen a wireless industry being sued because a cell phone does not kill people, okay? I cannot point this cell phone at you and kill you. I just cannot. But, if I am talking on the cell phone and I am using it in the wrong way, and I am not paying attention, most likely I may end up killing you based on my actions. So, we are trying to come up with a solution that can help people drive safely. We are basically making ourselves a virtual passenger. This app is like a virtual passenger. It is like somebody next to you saying, hey, watch out, there is a light. That is all.
ROB: Yeah, that is a great analogy DT. Just, I wanted to follow up. What are you hoping to you know, we have talked about the insurance angle, you talked about kind of safe driver discounts, so, I am curious. You and I met originally, we were both parts of a panel for a regulatory insurance conference and Eric Nordmann, who is a mutual friend brought us together. So, just curious what conversations you have had with Eric, possibly other regulators, and how those conversations have been going so far?
DT: Washington state, the deputy mayor’s office reached out to us, and wanted to talk to us about a vision zero program that they have. And so, we are entertaining that. Eric and I work very well together. Eric was the one when I really was getting into this, and trying to learn about insurance, Eric was the only person who would take my call. He was the only person; he was a Director of the National Association of Insurance Commissioner. And I will pick up the phone and Pam would answer that call. And the next thing you know, within 5 minutes, Eric would be on the phone. He will be giving me information that I can use. And even though that man is retired, he is still doing what he needs to do. He is a great patriot. And it is people like him who is going to help the insurance industry. So, we are working together on a plan to try and pitch something in a more positive light, to where everybody can be a part of it. I do not want to just go to farmers. I do not want to just go to state farms. I do not want to go to Allstate. Do you know what I am saying? I want them all to be able to use this because everybody is important.
ROB: Yeah, I know, it is a tremendous mission and I love the fact that you are focused not just on the safe driving, but specifically really dialing into that distracted driving, which is something that clearly, we all suffer from. We all get distracted by our phones as well as screaming kids in the back and other things. So, it is something that we all need to do better until the time of autonomous vehicles.
JAMES: There is a really good series on Amazon Prime. If you have not listened, you have not watched it. It is about a guy who is in an autonomous vehicle and he dies because the vehicle gets hacked and they kill him by deviating his autonomous vehicle. Have you seen it? I forgot what it is called. Oh my gosh. He goes and lives in a VR world. He gets scanned in.
DT: I know what you are talking about, just cannot think of the name.
JAMES: Yeah. I will remember in a minute. Autonomous vehicles are not like the end all be all solution necessarily. Although I will say I am strongly considering a Tesla model Y right now because these things are affordable, and they are self-driving and they have got some crazy tech on them. I mean, DT, it is a wild world in technology right now because you have not just Tesla. Cadillac rolled out Super Cruise this year. You have Audi, Porsche, rolling out electric sports cars that have more self-driving technology than ever before. You have got iPads, pretty much being standard, or at least large touchscreen tablets being standard. (The TV series, by the way, it is called Upload. It is about people who upload themselves into virtual reality rather than die). You have got a really wild set of technology coming together. And it reminds me of 2007 and 2008 when Android and iOS were first released.
You have this wild confluence of technology. Beforehand DT, you and I were building apps on Palm Pilot and Pocket PC, and all this other really subpar technology but we were doing the best we could with this subpar hardware. Now you have got amazing hardware. Ridiculous wireless networks. We have 5G rolling out. We have got Elon Musk, both creating a 4,000-constellation satellite network that brings bandwidth all over the world. And at the same time, launching rockets to Mars and at the same time, creating self-driving vehicles that are all powered by electricity instead of gas. All this is happening all at the same time. And you are sitting here with some unique intellectual property.
What is the next step for you and driver alerts? Where do you see it really going? Cause you have already accomplished something that most people have not. And that is school zones, railroad crossings, traffic lights that required a ton of data aggregation, a lot of original software development work. What is next, what is in the future for you?
DT: We are going to start doing pilots and testing with traffic lights.
JAMES: One of the interesting things you mentioned was being able to tell what color the light is. And so, I would love to know how you are getting that data. How you can know that it is red to green, to yellow back to red? How are you getting that information?
DT: Okay, basically, there is a box. There are little modules that are going into boxes. The gray box is on the side of the road, those are controlled monitor systems and those control the traffic lights. However, let us use Los Angeles as an example. They have not updated their traffic license 1983, since the Olympics. So, therefore there is no way that I will be able to do signal phrase entirely in Los Angeles, but I can use the other one. What is it?
JAMES: The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. (AASHTO)
DT: Right. Those organizations are very advanced. It is a government agency. So, us working with those types of agencies, we can get access to different traffic lights, work with a car company, the OEM to put that technology into a car, and then sell it as a subscription to you, the end–user. And what that is going to do, it is going to change insurance as we know it. So that is what we are going to do. Because then everybody would qualify for safe driver discounts based on that. But I had to plug his book that I finally got back.
ROB: I love it. I love it.
JAMES: That is awesome. That is great. Well, DT, people can find out more information about your company on what website? Where can they go?
DT: GMA4.com. It is an easier way. Or GlobalMobileAlert.com. But mainly if you have an Android or an iPhone, Driver Distraction Alert. Download that app. It is free, anywhere in the world. So, if you have subscribers anywhere in the world, you have listeners anywhere in the world, have them download it. Driver Distraction Alert. It is free now. So best you get it while it is free now because once it gets within OEM, there is going to be a cost to it.
JAMES: That is awesome. So, try that out right now in the app store, check the technology out, and find out how it is different than anything that you have been looking at today. It is not going to lock the screen. You already have the technology on your iPhone that will do that, but they will not do this. And so, go check it out and think about how this ties into insurance, how this ties into reducing risk. Really neat discussion. And a good reminder that out of pain come many amazing ideas. Sometimes severe pain. So, we are sorry that you had those accidents, but we are happy that they resulted in the creation of technology that is going to save a lot of people’s lives.
DT: Thank you.
JAMES: Thanks for joining us, obviously you are excited for your Seahawks. I am excited that football is back in general. I am just excited. Football’s back, to be honest.
DT: And also, can I provide you guys with an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, so if anyone out there is interested, who want to talk about positive brainstorming our collaboration, I am open. It is email@example.com. And you guys rock. I really enjoyed this interview.
JAMES: Yeah. Thanks so much and appreciate your time. Thank you for joining us today and thank you out there and listener-land. And Rob, always good to see you on the show.
ROB: Likewise. Thanks for making the time DT. It is so great to have you on. James, always great to see you.
JAMES: Yeah. And before we go, I know that Rob, you had a couple of quick news items that we can cover. Looks like Lloyd’s of London had some news, huh?
ROB: Yeah, so just kind of in the news section, they were predicting payouts of up to £5 billion, due to Coronavirus. Chief Executive John Neal said the first half of the year has been, and I quote “exceptionally challenging” – with insurers hit all across trade credit, event cancellation, business interruption, travel, and more. And supposedly insurance is only covering around £2 billion of the losses of the claims. So yeah, we will be hearing a lot more as the virus gets better, the insurance tail will continue into to quite some time, 2021 and beyond.
And then, the other one, we were talking about our kids going back to school, James. So, in Hartford, the start of school was delayed by a day because of a ransomware attack, that impacted the district of about 18,000 students. And, thankfully, most of the damage was repaired and the city’s $500,000 of cybersecurity improvements that were implemented last year, prevented officials from being locked out of the city system, according to Mayor Luke Bronin. I actually met a Mayor Bronin before. We know there is a thriving InsureTech community up in Hartford. So, shout out to you guys. And glad that school was able to open.
JAMES: Yeah, absolutely. And I am glad they were able to maintain access to their systems. Certainly, that has not been the case with many municipalities and school districts that have been hacked. Good to see that. And yes, we expected there to be a long tail of claims payouts for this nasty virus that impacted so many people economically. There is going to be certainly a lot of legal disputes. This will be tied up in court, I am sure, for at least a decade, Rob?
JAMES: Yeah. Duking it out over what was covered and what was not, what was excluded and what was not, it is an interesting time. But as always, thanks to all of you out there for joining us today. Again, this has been the InsureTech Geek podcast powered by JBKnowledge. It is all about technology that is transforming and disrupting the insurance world. I have been your host, James Benham, JamesBenham.com with co-host Rob Galbraith. EndOfInsurance.Com. Big thanks to Jim Greenlee, our Podcast Producer, Kara Dalton-Arro, our Creative Producer, and Adéle Waldeck, our Transcriptionist.
Thank you for joining us today.
We are taking you on a journey through insurance tech, so enjoy the ride and geek out.
See you next week!