Apr 7, 2021 - Technology

Using "eyes in the sky" and AI to remotely rate insurance risks

AI, machine learning house

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A startup is employing machine learning to process aerial imagery and remotely analyze insurance risks to properties around the country.

Why it matters: The combination of AI and aerial imagery from satellites and even stratospheric balloons can help insurers quickly judge property risks without an in-person visit, saving money and time.

How it works: Arturo's AI model can identify potentially risky characteristics of a property — like roof tiles in need of repair or a pool that lacks a fence — and estimate the likelihood of an insurable accident in the future.

  • "We create high-fidelity information about the property in seconds for the insurers today, and likely lenders tomorrow, to understand what's actually there," says John-Isaac Clark, Arturo's CEO.

Background: Arturo's business model is a combination of two major technological trends: the ever-increasing growth of aerial imagery that can capture detailed pictures of the ground and the power of machine learning.

  • Before he became the CEO of Arturo, Clark was head of product at DigitalGlobe, a major commercial vendor of space imagery and geospatial content.
  • "There's been a fundamental change in how we understand location as consumers," says Clark. "Whether it comes from space, from satellites, from airplanes, this imagery created for us a way to understand where things were and where we were going."

The big picture: Insurance might seem like the blandest of businesses, but since its origins hundreds of years ago, the field has focused on using available data to try to predict the future — which happens to be precisely what machine learning is good at.

  • A recent report from Porch Research found "InsurTech" companies like Arturo raised $5.4 billion in venture funding last year.
  • As both the sources of data — Arturo recently partnered with Urban Sky to tap that company's cost-effective "Microballoon" imagery — and the computational power of AI systems grow, so will the InsurTech field.

The catch: Given that insurance essentially exists as a shared hedge against uncertainty, the better insurance companies get at predicting the future, the harder it might be for some properties or people with higher risk profiles to get protection.

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