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Thanks to a dashcam, crafty Uber drivers are boosting their pay

Lyft president optimistic on company’s future

For Uber and Lyft drivers, installing a dashboard camera can boost their earnings by 5% to 15%.

Drivers are starting to place cameras behind their windshields to record the road ahead of them. Startups chasing the gold mine of car data are paying them to install these cameras. The startups want these videos to do everything from build maps for self-driving cars to track pedestrian activity.

A San Francisco startup, lvl5, is crowdsourcing maps for autonomous vehicles from dashcam videos. Two of its founders previously worked on Tesla’s autopilot team.

In three months, they’ve mapped over 500,000 miles of U.S. roads with 2,000 drivers using their iPhone app, Payver. Drivers receive between two and five cents per mile. Lvl5 expects that with 50,000 U.S. drivers, it can gather enough data to build maps for self-driving cars.

Their crowdsourcing strategy should prove less expensive than if they’d bought a fleet of vehicles specifically for mapping, the approach used for Google StreetView. Lvl5 has set aside $250,000 of the $2 million it’s raised to pay drivers for their videos.

Lvl5’s software ingests the videos and automatically identifies objects such as stop signs and traffic lights. A self-driving car with access to these maps could triangulate its position on a road and navigate by comparing the maps to the environment around it.

Kerb Technologies, a D.C. urban data startup, is paying drivers $3 an hour to place a GoPro on their dashboard. The fish-eye lens records the entire road and pedestrian traffic on sidewalks.

Kerb is targeting commercial real estate companies who want to make better informed decisions about street retail. It plans to launch a beta version in December. The startup analyzes its video footage to track the prevalence of pedestrians. As computer vision software improves, they may eventually detect more granular qualities about foot traffic, such as the age or of pedestrians. For example, a company considering opening a store for children would know if families frequent a neighborhood.

Kerb’s drivers currently drop by its office once a week to hand off the data they collect. Lvl5 drivers send the videos wirelessly, an approach Kerb expects to switch to soon.

According to Harry Campbell, author of The Rideshare Guy blog and podcast, dashcams are already popular with drivers to document anything that goes wrong on the road. Some drivers using dashcams turn them inwards to record passengers. That helps prevent bad behavior.

But for rideshare drivers recording road footage, there’s one clear downside. The footage they’re recording will help accelerate efforts to eliminate their jobs.