How Inviol founder Tane van der Boon is using AI to save lives.
"What we're trying to do, first and foremost, is keep people safe at work," explains founder Tane van der Boon of his startup Inviol – a health and safety coaching system designed to monitor and identify workplace complacency.
Workplace injuries cost four percent of global GDP each year. Around 80 percent of those injuries could be avoided by simply following health and safety policies, says van der Boon.
The Inviol system uses computer vision, a subset of artificial intelligence (AI), enabling computers and systems to extract useful information from digital images, videos, and other visuals. It then uses that data to make decisions or suggestions.
As described by IBM, “If AI enables computers to think, computer vision enables them to see, observe and understand.”
Van der Boon’s introduction to computer vision came about through his work as head of Vulcan Steel’s IP team, when, during an internal hackathon, he proved he could detect if workers were wearing/using PPE with cameras installed in the backs of trucks.
Excited about “teaching computers to see”, he founded not-for-profit MAUI63, which uses an AI-powered tracking drone to autonomously find, follow and identify Māui and Hector’s dolphins – a system he developed himself.
Recognising the technology's commercial potential, van der Boon then founded Inviol in 2021. Since then, the team has grown from three engineers to seven, supported by a pre-seed raise led by van der Boon’s former employer, Vulcan Steel, and PMAW1, a company associated with Inviol director Paul Makumbe, along with Anthony Wyborn and Andrew McAlpine.
Today, the startup offers two products to ‘triage’ complacency. The first, a tracking product used by Vulcan Steel and Placemakers, employs an Edge AI device installed in the backs of trucks to monitor loading and unloading. The second is a warehouse product used by Countdown and other distribution facilities.
With a tried and tested product and paying customers – one reporting a 500 percent risk reduction within three weeks of Inviol’s deployment – the startup is ready to scale.
In December 2023, it closed a $2.5 million seed round led by Lenticular Capital’s Hadleigh Bognuda and Promapp Solutions’ founder Ivan Seselj.
“It wasn’t just money for us; it was getting the right people. They’ve both scaled software companies into the US – a skillset we were missing and something I haven’t done before,” says van der Boon.
This year van der Boon has his sights set on Australia. However, he says a move into the US and Canada will be next, “as soon as possible”.
Caffeine talked to van der Boon about how he’s using AI in his startup.
There’s some machine learning in there but it’s mostly computer vision and how to get the computer to see, estimate depth and do all those things properly.
We use a lot of open-source software and models. We reference architectures that others have developed and then tweak and refine those to build our own models.
A crucial part of the recipe is how much data you have. We have millions and millions of data points for training these computer vision models to recognise different objects and scenarios.
Then, we use a bunch of tooling to help our developers work faster. So Github Copilot for DevOps and the likes of ChatGPT to accelerate coding processes and things internally.
It comes down to cultivating a culture around sharing and being intrigued by AI. We’re quite lucky as our team is really interested in the subject. We have a chat room just for new things people have seen that might or might not help us.
We find LinkedIn is a really good source as long as you follow the right people – technical people always talk about what they’re doing or where something is heading. Whenever anyone publishes something exciting, we’ll read over and discuss it.
Then, as not all of our team are building AI, we make sure to do demos as part of our processes. We’ll share what’s being built and how it works and get a good understanding amongst the whole team.
A big challenge has been building generalised models that fit into multiple environments without requiring lots of retraining or having specific models for different customers.
That’s something we’ve been able to overcome, which we’re quite happy about.
We align ourselves with New Zealand privacy laws.
From our end: one, there’s no one watching because it’s a system, and two, we don’t send anything anywhere unless it’s a health and safety breach or showing signs of unsafe behaviour.
We also integrate it with technology and frameworks that keep people’s information private when needed, be that facial blurring or data encryption. And, whenever we have trucks going onto customer sites, we make sure to notify people that a camera is there.
I know it’s starting in the US and other countries, but New Zealand doesn’t have much at the moment – what there is lines up with standard technology legislation.
So far, we’re playing it pretty safe. We’re not building large generative models and recreating people’s work. For us, it’s more about managing the privacy concerns I mentioned. As long as we stick with protecting people’s privacy rights, we’re good.
I’ve got my eye on Edge AI. It does the computation live on site. That means the data doesn't have to be shipped anywhere; it's not going up to the cloud to be processed and coming back down.
Most of the competition does the processing in the cloud, which is slow and can’t turn on alarm bells or send alerts fast enough. We have the hardware for doing edge processing installed in the trucks, which means we can do real-time learning.
It’s going to be huge; it’s already starting to be. Over the next three to five years, I think there’ll be a real shift from centralised cloud-based models to personalised Edge AI models on individual devices such as phones and laptops, creating tailored user experiences.
It allows us to be faster and do more with less, which is a real opportunity for small agile businesses – and a real advantage. Larger organisations are going to have trouble adopting these technologies to accelerate because they are stuck in their ways. Take advantage of what’s available and start creating.
AI in Action is a fortnightly series spotlighting New Zealand startups using artificial intelligence (AI) in day-to-day business. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are an AI company interested in participating.
Mary Hurley brings three years experience in the online media industry to the Caffeine team. Having previously specialised in environmental and science communications, she looks forward to connecting with founders and exploring the startup scene in Aotearoa New Zealand.
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