Allstate Insurance Co., the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer, is continuing its drive into new technology, agreeing to a multiyear research project with the Intelligent Systems Laboratory at Stanford University (SISL).
The scope of the research encompasses machine learning, artificial intelligence and highly autonomous vehicle systems, according to the announcement.
Allstate said it sees this as an opportunity to help shape the future of the insurance industry. The amount of the investment was not disclosed.
“We are proactively embracing and participating in the evolving landscape around personal transportation through our work with world-class institutions at the forefront of this automotive revolution,” said Allstate Senior Vice President of Product Innovation Howard Hayes. “We aim to learn about and contribute to the algorithm research, software platforms and the datasets, tools and standards related to connected and autonomous vehicles.”
“We see an autonomous vehicle future more as a matter of when, not if, and we want to be prepared to best serve our customers no matter who or what is behind the wheel,” said Allstate Director of Innovation and Research Sunil Chintakindi, who will lead the project for the insurer. “Allstate has long supported auto highway and safety reforms like seat belts, air bags and teen driver education. This is the logical next step as driverless technology continues to evolve.”
A spokesperson for Allstate told Insurance Journal the company is doing more than giving money. They will be “active participants in the research, including having some of our data and researchers working alongside the SISL group,” he said.
The Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory researches advanced algorithms and analytical methods for the design of robust decision-making systems. Its interests include systems for air traffic control, unmanned aircraft and other aerospace applications.
Stanford Professor Mykel Kochenderfer will serve as the principal investigator during the three-year project. Kochenderfer is assistant professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and assistant professor of Computer Science at Stanford University. In addition to being affiliated with the Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory, Kochenderfer is also affiliated with the Army High Performance Computing Research Center, the SAIL-Toyota Center for AI Research and the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford. Prior to joining the Stanford faculty in 2013, he was at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, where he worked on airspace modeling and aircraft collision avoidance.
Allstate Corp. CEO Tom Wilson has been preparing for a future of autonomous vehicles, a future that many expect will mean lower accident frequency and reduced demand for insurance.
Wilson told a Barclays conference in September that the country’s transportation network is highly inefficient and that Allstate sees opportunity in the coming disruption.
Earlier this year, Wilson created a stand-alone unit for a telematics business that the company expects to grow rapidly by collecting data on drivers and selling analytics products to third parties. The firm, named Arity, will also serve the insurer’s own brands including Esurance.
Last month, Allstate agreed to pay $1.4 billion to acquire SquareTrade, a consumer electronics and appliance protection plan provider that distributes through many of America’s major retailers. It offers protection plans for smartphones, laptops, tablets, televisions, home appliances, cameras and other devices. Wilson said the deal enhances “Allstate’s consumer-focused strategy of providing unique products.”
In May, Allstate became the first major insurer to offer personal property protection targeted to the needs of home-sharing hosts.
And it is looking to technology to help it grow its share of the small business insurance market. In October, it debuted a hi-tech business insurance quoting platform that lets small business owners buy a policy in about five minutes. Allstate’s site has ease-of-use, speed and transparency features that are touted by various InsurTech startups trying to attract small businesses.
Research into autonomous vehicles is in high gear, with Google and car makers at the forefront and in some cases already manufacturing products. Uber, which now owns Otto, a startup with software for driverless trucks, is partnering with Volvo and Toyota to make autonomous vehicles. That is one of many partnerships forming to compete in the race to offer driverless vehicles.
Allianz Insurance has invested in Silicon Valley startup Nauto along with automakers Toyota and BMW. Nauto’s technology involves the use of cameras and artificial intelligence systems in cars to understand driver behavior. The insurer will integrate the technology into test vehicles and use the data on driving habits to help develop its autonomous vehicle strategies.
In 2015, Toyota Motor Corp. invested $1 billion to form a research institute focused on the artificial intelligence and robotics technology it needs to make cars that can overcome driver errors and reduce traffic fatalities. The Japanese carmaker’s five-year initial investment went toward setting up locations near Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
In 2014, Ford Motor Co. joined with Stanford and MIT on research into automated driving technology.
*This story appeared previously in our sister publication Insurance Journal.