Start-ups are offering smart devices that can help you be a better driver, track the vehicle and give real-time car health information, reports Tinesh Bhasin.
Better driving can help you get more mileage from your car, reduce wear and tear and save money on fuel and maintenance. But how does a driver know if he is doing the right things?
To help car owners evaluate their or their driver's driving skills, a few start-ups have started offering a smart device which houses a mobile SIM card. It attaches to the easily accessible On-Board Diagnostic-II (OBD-II) port and sends driving analysis, vehicle location and its health to a mobile app in real time.
The vehicle owner can look at the driving score and understand the areas that need improvement and monitor the vehicle's health as well. In case of any problems, repairs can be done in time.
He can also keep a check on the movement and the location of the car.
"Every car in India manufactured after 2010 has an OBD-II port and the device works with all models and makes. The primary function of the port is to check if there are any problems in the car. But we have added extra hardware that can make any four-wheeler a smart and connected car," says Prashant Gupta, founder and CEO of Zyme Technologies.
A customer has to pay an upfront fee for the device which can be as high as Rs 7,000. Then there's an annual recurring charge for the data, which is between Rs 900 and Rs 2,000 a year depending on the manufacturer.
The charges for the data is free in the first year.
At present, there are five brands in the market that include CarIQ, Rollr, Carnot, Zyme and AutoWiz.
The cost for the AutoWiz device, for example, is Rs 7,400 and the subscription charges are Rs 2,000 a year from the second year.
The CarIQ device costs Rs 4,500 and the annual subscription is Rs 999.
Most of the devices offered in the market have similar features. You get alerts when the car starts and stops.
A user can specify a geography within which the car should remain. If it breaks the geo-fencing, an alert is sent on the mobile.
Similarly, when you are on a long trip, if the temperature of the coolant rises too fast, there's an alert to stop the vehicle.
An individual can specify the speed limit and get alerts if the vehicle breaches the maximum speed.
Idling of the engine is also recorded. The car owner can get to know if say, the driver switches the air conditioning on for long periods while the vehicle is parked.
The hardware can be a distinguishing factor but to make it simpler for the consumers, no one mentions sensors available and how powerful the processor is. The people behind most of the start-ups in this space are young graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology.
"While cost is one parameter, the other way for a consumer to evaluate the company is by checking the interface of the app and user reviews at e-commerce platforms like Amazon where they are sold," says Kamal Aggarwal, CEO of SenSight Technologies that sells the device under the brand name AutoWiz.
For a quick review, you can go to the Google Play Store and check the apps of the manufacturer to see the interface and features available. To make the product more attractive and distinguishable, they are adding more features in the three functions of the device.
In Zyme and AutoWiz, a customer can get an alert if the car is being towed away. AutoWiz has a variant of the device that makes it a hotspot and those sitting in the car can use the data on Wi-Fi without additional charges.
Most of them have tie-ups with multiple mobile operators. Depending on the location, they select the operator that works best in the customer's city.
"The device also has in-built memory. When networks are not available, the data is stored on the device and sent to the app later when the network is available," Amit Upadhyay, co-founder and chief technology officer at Rollr.
Cheaper options, limited features
If Rs 4,500-7,500 looks expensive, a car owner can also go for cheaper Chinese devices that work on Bluetooth and cost Rs 500-600. They will work only when you are in the car with your mobile connected to them.
If you are only concerned with the car's health, these devices are an option. They don't come with their own app.
You will also need to buy apps such as Torque Pro that works with all generic OBD-II devices. You also need to be a bit of a tech enthusiast to understand the reports.
Apps from Indian manufacturers give reports in a simple format like Air Fuel Control, Transmission, etc are working fine.
In apps like Torque you get a code like MID:$01 TID:$06, which could be a "lean to rich sensor switch". You need to know the functionality of such a sensor.
Even manufacturers are getting into making cars connected like Honda Connect from Honda. If your manufacturer offers such functionality, keep it as the first preference.
OBD-II ports can provide two sets of data. One is generic that all Indian smart device players are using. The other is car-specific data, which the manufacturers don't share.
It, therefore, makes sense to opt for such a platform from the manufacturer.
"OBD-II has the potential to control all functions of the car remotely like immobilising the car. By 2020, you can expect most car makers to have such platforms," says Gupta of Zyme.
Image used for representational purpose. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters.