Splitsecnd Launches Plug-In OnStar Alternative to Give Any Driver Crash Assistance

Whether or not they have it installed, most drivers are familiar with OnStar’s service, which provides assistance with everything from directions to sending help in the event of an accident. For drivers who either don’t subscribe to OnStar’s service or don’t have an OnStar-enabled vehicle, startup Splitsecnd is providing an alternative. The Nashville-based company’s device plugs into any car’s cigarette lighter, and automatically detects when a car has been in an accident, notifying responders who can call for help.

While most drivers have smartphones they can use to call for help, Splitsecnd is designed for drivers who might not be able to get help because they’re in a serious accident, or for those who have an emergency like a heart attack and need someone else to send assistance. Co-founders Will Green and Chris Thompson say that the device is designed to help any driver get the assistance a service like OnStar provides.

“The idea is that we want to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes for people who are in a car accident to get help, and we do that by using the GPS location of the car, so as soon as the accident it detected the location is uploaded to our server, and that information is provided to our representative, so they can then pass that information along to the emergency responders,” Thompson said in an interview.

The duo came up with the idea while attending Vanderbilt University, and it was originally designed as an iPhone alert app. They moved to a device after polling potential users and finding that it was typically something they would buy for someone else, for example a wife buying it for her husband or kids buying it for their grandparents, so they wanted to make sure there were no barriers to entry to start using the device.

“If I’m going to buy this for my grandparents I don’t have to ask myself what kind of cell phone do they have, or what kind of car do they have, or make sure it’s compatible, or are they going to be able to set it up,” he said. “All I have to do is send it to them, they open the box, they plug it in, they’re good to go.”

Starting today drivers can purchase a Splitsecnd device online for $199.95, plus a $14.95 monthly service fee, which is already activated when it arrives (devices start shipping in two weeks), and just needs to be plugged into a cigarette lighter socket in any vehicle. That fee includes 24/7 monitoring, the Family Finder feature which lets drivers see where the driver is at any given time (a feature that can be turned off), as well as an on-device help button that a driver could press if they needed assistance, for example if they’re having a health issue or if they get in a minor accident and the device isn’t triggered (the device usually responds to a crash if the airbags go off, not for fender benders). There are also branded Splitsecnd iPhone and Android apps that users can use to access the FamilyFinder feature on the go.

When the device detects an accident, the Splitsecnd response center is called, and the driver can then request help or let them know they’re okay via the device’s built-in speaker (it uses the RACO Wireless network in the U.S.). Thompson and Green tested the device extensively at the University of Michigan, and said that even in crash scenarios where the device was ejected from its socket, the battery meant that it was still able to call for help, and they added it works even if the car is turned off or it is temporarily removed from the socket. The company has been running a closed beta test with about 30 drivers on the road, though none of them have gotten into an accident yet.

Thompson said they plan to sell the devices online first, and then will move into large offline retailers, and eventually they’d like to explore working with auto dealers to provide it as an upsell at the time of purchase. The company was part of Nashville’s Jumpstart Foundry startup accelerator in 2010, and the team has raised a total of $2.1 million in funding since starting work on the idea three years ago.

While apps like Guardly are focused on personal safety, letting users notify family, friends, and emergency responders in case of an emergency, Splitsecnd has taken a specific driver-focused approach to the idea of automatic crash notifications and in-car assistance. While OnStar might be the leader in the space, and companies like BMW have their own in-car assistance solutions, Thompson said they believe the plug-and-play nature of their product will be what sets them apart with drivers (OnStar only works in certain vehicles, and starts at $18.95 per month).

“There’s a number of built-in solutions that do crash detection in varying different flavors,” Thompson said. “Where we fit in is that we’re emphasize ease of use. We want to make it really, really, really simple to add this to your car so there’s no reason why anybody wouldn’t use it.”

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin has covered startups and technology for over three years in publications including Sprouter Weekly, The Globe and Mail, Business Insider, Mashable, and VentureBeat. She also writes a regular startup column for the Financial Post, and is a technology expert on CTV News Channel. Before BetaKit Erin worked as Director of Content & Communications at Sprouter from its launch in 2009 until its acquisition by Postmedia Network Inc. She was recently named one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30 in 2012.

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