Summary:

Auto insurer MetroMile has built an plug-in connected car device that won’t just tell you where you’ve parked and how you’re driving. It’s tapping into city street cleaning data.

If you own a car in the city of Chicago, then you’re familiar with the bright orange signs that pop up tied to trees and poles every month so on residential streets. They indicate a street sweeper is coming and, especially in Chicago’s more crowded neighborhoods, they often kick off a mad scramble to get your car out of the way right when available parking in your neighborhood has been cut in half. The other option is to pay a fine.

A two-year-old innovative auto insurance startup called MetroMile, though, has come up with a nifty iPhone app that may not clear your street sweeping tickets, but will warn you that they’re coming. MetroMile has developed an after-market car accessory called the Metronome that plugs into your car’s onboard diagnostic port and effectively adds connected car features to unconnected vehicles.

MetroMile's Metronome plugs into the on-board diagnostic port of your car (Source: MetroMile)

MetroMile’s Metronome plugs into the on-board diagnostic port of your car (Source: MetroMile)

Every time you park your car, Metronome drops a pin on a map, which it then correlates with data it takes from city streets and sanitation departments (it only works in Chicago and San Francisco as of today, and its app is available on iOS for now). When a street cleaning is scheduled it sends your phone an alert 12 hours ahead of time, and another hour before the sweeper comes if you still haven’t moved your car.

There a lot of companies offering plug-in connected car gadgets, ranging from big outfits like Delphi and Audiovox to startups like Automatic, Zubie and Mojio. All of them are linked to smartphone apps and offer different combinations of features like tracking your mileage and car’s location, rating your driving and diagnosing problems when the check-engine light comes on.

MetroMile Street Cleaning alert

MetroMile stands out in this crowded market for two reasons. The first is the street sweeping feature, which is what I hope will be the first of a new generation of car apps that don’t just connect your car to the web or your phone, but also tap into the larger infrastructure of a smart city. Our future cars won’t just know when the sweeper or a road crew is coming to our blocks; they’ll also know if the streets in the neighborhood are safe for driving after a snowstorm. They won’t just take data from the cloud, but will contribute data drawn for their sensors as well.

The other notable thing about MetroMile is that it’s free. It’s not charging for the Metronome device or the app, and there’s no monthly subscription fee. MetroMile makes its money selling insurance as one of the new breed of pay-by-the-mile underwriters. The company claims it can save the typical driver up to $400 a year in premiums. The service is still in beta, and at least for now, you don’t have to buy MetroMile’s insurance to get its gadget gratis.

And don’t forget to move your car.

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