Less stress, less time: How a Brazilian startup is using Azure AI to make car repairs easier
SÃO PAOLO, Brazil – For most people, the worst part of getting into a minor car accident is figuring out how to get your car repaired.
There’s the trouble of figuring out who to call, the hassle of driving around to get estimates and the constant worry that whoever you work with will end up taking advantage of you.
That’s where Car10 comes in. The Brazilian startup has created an app that allows customers to take a picture of the damage, submit the photo and get three to five estimates from nearby car repair shops that Car10 has pre-screened for quality and reliability. The startup even guarantees it will make the repair for free if you aren’t satisfied.
“We take the fear out of the process, the worry that you’ll be taken advantage of,” said Jose Tafner, Car10’s chief financial officer.
Now, the São Paolo-based company is using artificial intelligence to make the process faster. The startup announced that it is using Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services Custom Vision Service to almost immediately give the user a rough sense of what they expect the repair to cost.
With the current system, users who submit a photo will get a quote within 30 minutes to an hour. With the new AI tools, Tafner said they can get a general sense of how much the repair will cost within about 30 seconds.
“It goes back to the customer need. When you have a small accident or crash, the thing you want to know is how much it’s going to cost,” Tafner said. “The first need is speed and some level of accuracy.”
The AI system uses a machine learning model to compare the damage to the customer’s car with other examples of similar damage to come up with a reasonably close estimate. Then, the company works with car repair shops to get firmer bids.
The AI system may speed up the quote process, but it doesn’t replace the hands-on involvement that Car10 has in ensuring customers feel comfortable throughout the process of getting their car repaired.
Tafner said Car10 works with customers on everything from providing the estimate to scheduling the visit and even paying through Car10’s digital platform. The customer then has the opportunity to rate the experience and the shop where the repair was made.
“The digital part of the journey is small. The largest part is analog,” Tafner said.
Focus on quality
Car10 has about 100,000 customers and works with about 4,000 auto body shops throughout Brazil, ranging from big businesses to small mom-and-pop shops. Tafner said the company initially focused only on larger shops, thinking that was what the customer would prefer. But they found that customers didn’t care whether the shop was being run out of someone’s garage or a fancy office.
“They care about the quality of the service,” he said.
Car10 was started in 2014 by three brothers who had previously worked for their father’s insurance adjustment business. When that business was sold, they decided to use their experience in the car repair industry to plunge into the startup world. Tafner joined a couple of years later, after decades of global experience in the corporate world. The service is designed for people who are paying for repairs themselves, instead of relying on insurance.
From the beginning, the four-person leadership team has been highly reliant on technology and data. They run on Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, use Power BI dashboards and built the app on the .NET framework.
“The four of us are data freaks. We’re constantly using it to improve the business,” Tafner said.
Still, Tafner said that like many businesses swimming in data, it can be challenging to figure out which pieces of data are useful.
One clear winner: The photos of car repairs. Car10 was able to use that data to train the machine learning model to automatically detect what kind of repair a person needs and what it would generally cost. Car10 doesn’t sell customer data, and it protects people’s personal information using Azure security protections.
Car10, which has received startup investment funds from Microsoft, first started building the AI solution when the company participated in an industry hackfest. Although it has an IT staff, none of the people who work for Car10 have a particular expertise in AI. Azure Cognitive Services are designed so that even people without any formal AI training can use them.
Car10 is about five years old now, and it expects to break even within a quarter. Now, Tafner said the company is seeking more funding so that it can expand into other areas of business, and potentially other markets outside of Brazil.
“What we can do for car crashes we can do for a number of things,” he said.
For Tafner, the small team and fast pace is both invigorating and enlightening. Like any startup, he notes, the company is constantly trying new things, making mistakes and adjusting – all while trying to run the core business. He likens it to race car driving.
“We’re changing the tires while the car is running,” Tafner said. “There are no pit stops for us.”
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Allison Linn writes about AI and innovation. Follow her on Twitter.