BELEN – What would you do if you wanted to change the world?
Most people would say cure the incurable or eradicate hunger. One Belen native has taken a different tack – choosing to focus on an issue that affects us all but is rarely thought about.
When he was still at Belen High School, Brad Cordova was in a severe car crash caused by a distracted driver.
“That kind of awoke me. It’s a huge problem and not a lot of people are tackling it,” Cordova, now 27, said during a phone interview from Boston, the city he now calls home.
While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, things fell into place and he decided to use technology to make the roads safer.
That has earned him a place on Forbes magazine’s 2017 “30 Under 30” list, which highlights 600 millennials in 20 industries determined to be the innovators and disrupters we need to keep an eye on.
Forbes has been compiling this list since 2012 and its “30 Under 30” community includes 4,000 members, from the United States to Europe to Asia.
Those previously named to the list include Mark Zuckerberg, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, SNL’s Kate McKinnon, Chance the Rapper and YouTube phenom Michelle Phan.
While at MIT, Cordova needed to find an elective to balance out his studies in machine learning, and an entrepreneurship class caught his eye. That’s where he met Joel Adelmann.
“Both our dads are truck drivers and both our moms teach, so we had a lot in common,” Cordova said. “We were sharing crazy stories about our dads and the stuff that happened to them on the road.”
The two started looking at statistics and crash data and found it surprising.
“Every 15 seconds, someone is put in the hospital for a driving-related crash. The No. 1 cause of death for teens is driving,” he said. “We found that in the last 50 years, crashes have been decreasing because cars are being made safer, but in 2015 the number was rising and in 2016 … even bigger.
“We have a lot of evidence that it’s due to distracted (driving). You can see it, when you see that blue glow on people’s faces at night when they’re driving.”
Cordova didn’t necessarily want to start a company and abandon his academic pursuits, but he couldn’t ignore the other thing he and Adelmann had in common – their social mission.
“We both grew up in a western country and it’s not like we chose to do that. We recognized that we unfairly won some kind of lottery with great parents and opportunities,” he said. “And we felt that everyone who won that should give back.”
So they took the plunge and founded TrueMotion, originally called Censio, to develop a product to end distracted driving.
“The mission of the company from the very first day was to empower people to be safer on the road while driving and to drive more affordably,” the 2007 Belen High School graduate said.
One product the company developed is an eponymous named app, which tracks your driving habits and gives you a safety score based on those habits.
The TrueMotion app can do more than just tell you how safe you are on the road. It can be used to lower your insurance rates, Cordova said.
“Historically, insurance companies have looked at your age and gender, your credit score. If you are a 22-year-old male, they are going to charge you X,” he said. “But you can have two 22-year-olds and one is safe while the other drives very dangerously. Replacing the old model with measuring how people drive is very challenging.”
The app, available on Android and iPhone, collects data from your smartphone and is able to automatically detect when you begin and end a trip, knows whether you are on a bus or a train, even if you are a passenger in a vehicle rather than the driver.
“Using AI and the sensor data smartphones already have, we can use them in machine learning to understand how people drive. Most people are about 85 percent very safe, which is a surprise,” he said.
Insurance companies can partner with TrueMotion so their customers can track their driving and possibly get discounts. For instance, Progressive already uses the app to collect data for 30 days and offers customers a discount based on the information.
TrueMotion, named a Best Place to Work by the Boston Business Journal in 2016, plans to release another app later this year that will allow users to win rewards, such as Amazon gift cards, for driving safely, Cordova said.
Cordova is on the East Coast now, but he hasn’t forgotten all that Belen has given him, he said.
“I’ve seen things where Belen gets a bad rap. … In my personal experience, there are tons of amazing people there and that starts with my amazing parents, but maybe I’m biased,” he said.
“A lot of who I am today makes growing up in a small town very valuable.”
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