Direct Line: The Smart Crossing
Direct Line: The Smart Crossing
A view from Mark Evans

Purposeful innovation: making prevention better than cure

There are many blind alleys when it comes to adopting emerging technologies and all too often the customer benefit is lost in the conversation, says Direct Line's marketing director.

Consumer expectations are increasing exponentially. For insurance, we believe that this will compel us to move from the process of restoring things when they have gone wrong, to the service of preventing bad things happening in the first place.

The benefit to consumers of avoiding nasty things happening to them is obvious but, clearly, it is easier said than done. Indeed, there are many blind alleys when it comes to adopting emerging technologies and all too often the customer benefit is lost in the conversation.

At Direct Line we have had the notion of prevention in mind for a while as an extension to our "fixer" positioning and so have been developing ways to demonstrate this intent to existing and future customers. One example of where we’ve used technology to try to solve a big problem is Fleetlights, which involved us looking to "hack" street lighting. 

Sadly, most people are killed and injured on the UK’s roads in the winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight. Our arcane and patchy street-lighting infrastructure has a lot to do with that. Fleetlights is a prototype service whereby a pedestrian, driver or cyclist can call a fleet of drones via a mobile app to light the way ahead in dimly lit areas.

Both the hardware and software designs were created from scratch and developed on an open-source basis, making them accessible to any group that may wish to build on the prototype and re-apply the technology. Fleetlights has had recognition as far and wide as Argentina and Australia and resulted in us being the first insurer to win two Cannes Lions in 2017. 

We had no plans to commercialise the technology but were convinced it would lead somewhere interesting. So we were thrilled to be approached by Caister Lifeguards who wanted to use it for sea search and rescue. The concept is now operational, saving lives up to five times faster.

The Smart Crossing offers up another example. For this, we hacked the zebra crossing, which hasn’t changed much since the first was unveiled in 1951. However, in that time, our roads have become far busier, vehicles faster and bigger, and road users distracted by their mobile phones. Seven thousand accidents take place at crossings every year. Our attempt to try to reduce this centred on a responsive crossing that reacts in real-time to what is happening on the road.

The Smart Crossing prevents accidents by alerting road users via the road surface. It’s a big shift compared with anything that we know today, and, again, it symbolises our intent to push the boundaries to make the world a safer place.

On the back of the Smart Crossing launch campaign, research showed that 81% of consumers viewed Direct Line as an innovative brand, while 85% were interested in how the smart crossing develops. If we can keep finding clever ways to solve the biggest problems our customers face, then we won’t go far wrong.

Mark Evans is the marketing director at Direct Line Group