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The Greenlight dash cam system includes a smartphone app with a dongle that can be pressed to save video clips. (Photo: Greenlight)

A new Seattle tech company started by Jason Green, previously one of the co-founders of the Contour action-camera company, is emerging from stealth mode today with its flagship product: a $49 kit called “Greenlight” that quickly transforms a smartphone into a dashboard camera — able to detect crashes and automatically store high-definition video of any incident the driver wants to record.

It’s not the first attempt to turn a smartphone into a dash-cam, but the Greenlight app and hardware stand out for their sophistication and simplicity.

Docking an iPhone or Android device in the Greenlight cradle triggers a notification that lets the user easily start the app, called Dashware, without needing to search through the phone for the icon. The idea is to make activating and using the dash-cam as routine as releasing the emergency brake.

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Greenlight co-founder and CEO Jason Green demonstrating the smartphone dash-cam system last week. (GeekWire Photo)

“It should be a one-handed operation that automatically recurs when you get into your car,” explained Green, the Greenlight CEO, demonstrating the system while driving around Seattle last week. “You shouldn’t have to think about it as a driver.”

The company is pitching the product as a tool for safer driving. In addition to providing drivers with the ability to record incidents in the short run, Greenlight is eventually planning to provide users with information about their driving habits, and how they compare to other drivers based on aggregated data. The idea, long term, is for good drivers to be able to turn their data over to their insurance companies to received preferred rates.

That’s down the road. At launch, Greenlight says it is collecting secure, anonymous data to improve the app and its ability to detect incidents.

auto-launch (2)The company is a new start for Green, who with fellow University of Washington student Marc Barros was an early pioneer in the point-of-view camera industry, co-founding the Seattle-based company that became Contour more than 12 years ago. Facing stiff competition from GoPro, Contour closed its doors temporarily in 2013 and was acquired by an investment group before merging with iON Cameras last year.

(Barros has also stayed in the camera industry, in a different way, launching the popular Moment lenses for smartphones.)

Green stayed on with Contour after the acquisition but has since left to launch Greenlight. He’s working with a small team, including co-founder Joshua M. Davis.

Image via Greenlight

According to an SEC filing, the company has raised $700,000 in funding, although Green said he continues to own the majority of the company. Manufacturing giant Flextronics is an early strategic investor for Greenlight, through its Lab IX accelerator.

“Flextronics gives us scalability — they give us access to reach and growth that gives us a huge advantage should the market desire this product in greater numbers than we imagine,” Green said.

That’s an example of Green applying lessons learned from Contour’s battle with GoPro — including the importance of lining up industry allies. Greenlight is also partnering with Sirqul, the Seattle startup led by Amazon Web Services co-founder Robert Frederick, which offers a platform for connected devices and mobile apps.

But the most obvious change with Greenlight was the decision to leverage smartphones rather than build a dedicated camera.

“We believe there’s a market that’s interested in this type of product, but not interested in the solutions that are incumbent — the dedicated hardware,” Green said, explaining that the company is seeking to offer many of the same features as high-end cameras in a lower-cost package.

Greenlight’s brains are in a dongle with a button that lights up green when the dash-cam is active on the smartphone. Drivers can press the button to make the app save a clip from the video, which otherwise records on a self-erasing loop. Saved video clips can be accessed from the app. The package will come with iPhone and Android connectors, an in-car charging cord, and a cradle that can turn the phone horizontally and vertically, attaching to the dashboard with a suction mount.

Image via Greenlight

Other apps, including music and GPS navigation, can run in the background while Greenlight is running, and the Dashware user interface is configured to accommodate notifications such as turn-by-turn directions on the screen.

The app uses sensor data from the phone, including the GPS and accelerometer, automatically saving a clip when it detects that a crash or another unusual incident has taken place. The saved clips can be preset to last as little as 30 seconds or up to 3 minutes. With a 30-second clip, for example, the app saves the 15 seconds of video before and the 15 seconds after the recording is activated.

Greenlight is available for pre-order starting today, and scheduled to ship in the fall.

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