Tech companies and automakers are racing to get more connected cars on the road, but unless consumers have a few grand to spare on a new ride, they’re missing out on some of the fuel savings, security, and diagnostic tools that come standard with today’s models.
The San Francisco–based startup Voyomotive–founded by Peter Yorke and Harald Ekman–found itself wondering about that problem. As the company saw it, cars have steadily become computers on wheels and all that’s needed is a single device that can tap into these systems, track the data, take action, and improve the experience.
Yorke, Eckman, and Robert Vogt, Voyomotive’s CTO, built the Voyo and its accompanying app—now seeking funding on Kickstarter—which plugs into a car’s OBD-II port, and will work with any model from 1996 onward. After a two-minute set-up, the $200 gadget essentially becomes a car’s second brain, cracking into all of the data the car produces and translating it into more useful metrics for drivers. For instance, your “check engine” light comes on but you don’t know why. Voyo can read the code to figure out what’s wrong.
“Until now, connected car devices have been long on promise short in delivery,” Yorke says. “Basically most systems can look at one operating system at a time, and it rotates. Voyo is a multi-threaded tool that can simultaneously track 140 operating parameters.”
This caught the attention of frogVentures, which invested in the company, and worked on both the industrial design and branding of the product. “With a limited amount of data, a typical OBD reader is reading at a first-grade level,” says Ethan Imboden, head of venture design at Frog. “With a device like this one, you’re not only reading and interpreting data at a post-doc level, you can control the experience.”
Yorke predicts that security is going to be the biggest concern for drivers in the next couple of years. (We’ve all heard the horror stories of a hacker remotely stopping a Jeep as it drives down a highway and how easy it is to wirelessly break into a car.) In addition to keyless entry and remote locking and unlocking, Voyo can be programmed to immobilize the vehicle unless the user’s smartphone is inside of the car, adding an extra layer of security.
But the potential boon revolves around car sharing. Yorke says that the big limitation is handing keys off and ensuring that nothing bad happens to the car while someone else is driving it. With Voyo, you can authenticate any smartphone on the app and leave the keys in the car for the renter. Moreover, the device can track things like speed, if anti-skid controls were applied, or if hard braking was used—signals of how good the driver is. Feel like there’s too much risky behavior? Then you’d know not to rent to that person. The same principles apply to parents who want to monitor how their kids are driving.
Other features include trip loggers that relay mileage, driving time, gas consumed and CO2 produced for a given period of time. There’s also a crowdsourcing element that tracks dangerous driving conditions and shares that information with other drivers using the device so they can avoid those areas. Voyo’s EcoStart system informs drivers on when it makes sense to kill the engine to save gas when the car’s just idling. Yorke estimates that it would cost about $2,000 to buy all the devices that offer the functionality that one Voyo unit does.
To Imboden, Voyo is not just about about making the benefits of connected cars available to more people, it’s about making all cars more responsive to drivers’ needs. “Voyomotive has developed a ‘Rosetta Stone’ that unlocks more engagement between the driver and the car,” he says. “You experience a new level of intelligence with the car and the interaction that takes over.”