Automobile insurers are increasingly turning to machine learning models to calculate the cost of car repairs.

What’s new: The pandemic has made it difficult for human assessors to visit vehicles damaged in crashes, so the insurance industry is embracing automation, Wired reported.

How it works: When drivers get into an accident, insurance companies direct them to download an app that guides them through documenting the effects. These systems are particularly good at assessing damage from minor collisions and determining when a car has been totaled.

  • Such apps classify damage using a model trained on crash photos of a variety of makes and models. The app determines whether the damaged part needs to be inspected by a human. If not, it analyzes what needs to be fixed and estimates a repair cost using data from local mechanics and parts suppliers. Then a human adjustor reviews the model’s work.
  • Tractable, which makes such software, says its system correctly estimates 25 percent of cases without human intervention.
  • CCC Information Services, which makes an app called Smart Estimate, claims that adjusters who use its system are 30 percent more productive.
  • Such models are particularly good at assessing minor damage and determining when a car has been totaled.

Yes, but: Several body shop owners said that automated estimates weren’t accurate and often failed to spot hard-to-see damage such as a misaligned frame. Bad estimates resulted in substandard repairs and delays as mechanics haggled with insurance companies for more money.

Why it matters: Smart damage-assessment apps can inspect vehicles far more quickly than a human who examines the damage first-hand. Accurate output helps insurance companies save money and drivers settle claims more quickly.

We’re thinking: Will self-driving cars that get into a fender bender use an app to assess the damage?

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