Your car is a lot smarter than most people realise. A typical modern car packs many times more computing power than rocket guidance systems used for the Apollo moon mission - the catch is that most of it is hidden away from us. Your car has to operate various systems, from the brakes to the locks to the in-car entertainment systems, and it has to run all of these instantaneously. Cars have to be able to compute things like oxygen intake using sensors, to ensure an optimal air-fuel ratio. Just about every system in the car involves sensors and processors today.
Pune-based CarIQ wants to make it easier for people to make sense of all the data that's being generated by their cars, and to this end it has been building out data analytics capabilities using a simple cloud-connected device that is plugged into your car's electronics systems aftermarket, which stays online thanks to a SIM card in the device.
One of CarIQ's founders, Sagar Apte, was in Bengaluru recently for a conference where he was speaking on the applications of Microsoft's cloud technology, and on the sidelines of the event, Gadgets 360 caught up with Apte to talk about his company.
All cars made in the last couple of decades have the electronic systems we described above, and are generating huge amounts of data, explains Apte. Analysing this data can create an aggregated picture of your car’s health; aggregated data from all cars can surface even more interesting data. For example, Apte says, CarIQ has now started to generate maps of road traffic pollution.
“Inside the car, an oxygen sensor detects the amount of oxygen coming in, and uses that to say, we need to bring in this much air right now,” he says, “and in an area where there is a lot of pollution, the oxygen content is lower, so the car needs to take in more air. So we were getting this data, and then we thought, okay, I can use this to create a map, and show pollution on the roads on the go, from a large number of sources quite cheaply.”
At the same time, for the individual, CarIQ tracks how much you’ve driven, records your speed data, and even let’s you know that it’s time to take your car for servicing, among other things. That’s not all - the software can also track your driving, and gamify it. “You’ll get a score for fuel efficiency, you’ll get a score for how safely you’re driving, you can see if someone is braking too much, all kinds of data,” says Apte. “Now you can turn this score into something I can check so that I know how well I am really driving.”
“We can calculate the mileage, the road condition, it has the car error code database for India, we can measure the car health, like the battery, the AC,” adds Apte. “So there was this one person who got his AC serviced and then the efficiency dropped and we were able to alert him and tell him that the gas has leaked, normally you wouldn’t be able to measure this right, you’d think, this doesn’t feel right, but you don’t know.”
The idea of a Fitbit for cars is intriguing though if our experience with fitness wearables tells us anything, it’s that people get tired of having so much data after a point. Apte’s aware of this, and says that’s why CarIQ isn’t targeting the consumer market anymore. The company was formed about three years ago, and started selling its product about a year ago. “We’ve sold a few thousands in the last 12 months, and we’ve realised that right now the consumer market is not ready,” says Apte. “In the consumer market, we’d be looking at a price of around Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000, and you’d need a lot of education to get people to use the product.”
“That’s why we’ve taken an enterprise approach instead,” he explains. “We’re now working with insurance companies, so when you get an insurance policy, you also get the CarIQ as a bundle. Why? There are a lot of benefits.”
“In the car insurance space, there is no loyalty, because the customer is not in touch, the company is something they think about once per year when they remember that the premium is overdue and that is it,” he says. “Our idea was, with CarIQ, the insurance company can get a much better idea about the condition of your car, how carefully you’re driving, whether you’re taking care of the car. They can offer updates based on your usage, and they can have more touchpoints with the car owner.”
This sounds good for the insurance companies, but as a car owner, why would you want the bother? The answer is simple, according to Apte. “The incentive is that the insurance companies can then give you special offers – I won’t share all your data with them, just aggregated data, but if through machine analysis of your driving I can say that you are a good driver, then the company can offer you a better deal with lower premiums, so you’re incentivised to be on board.”
It’s an interesting proposition, and puts the burden of making sense of your information, someone else’s problem. Whether that’s enough to get people on board is something that we’ll only see with time, but Apte is confident that CarIQ can change the insurance industry, and make cars smarter.