The ultimate vision of Car 2.0 is one of vehicles that tap into a stream of data from cell phones, GPS devices, in-vehicle diagnostics, and sensors that can make our cars smarter and driving more efficient. That’s the long term goal, anyway. In the mean time, there are devices coming out that can bridge that connection, like the Kiwi WiFi dongle, from PLX Devices, which is now compatible with at least three iPhone applications, and can also be extended throughout the car with sensors.
The CEO of startup Virtual Vehicle company, Laura Schewel, told me she thought the Kiwi WiFi device was a breakthrough and “a huge deal,” for companies building businesses off of vehicle data, particularly now that the device has been cleared to work with Apple apps. The $150 Kiwi WiFi device plugs into the onboard diagnostic car port, called the OBD-II, which is standard on all cars built after 1996, and has to be accessible in the front dashboard within three feet of the driver.
The device accesses the car’s diagnostic system and engine control unit (ECU), which contains data like engine performance, speed and braking frequency, and uses Wi-Fi to connect that data with the iPhone. PLX also sells an extended version of the Wi-Fi dongle (for $250) that connects the Wi-Fi device with up to 32 sensor modules that can unleash ever more geeky, gearhead data like air-to-fuel ratio, exhaust gas temperature and fluid temperatures.
While the Kiwi WiFi device itself has been sold for a while, and mostly auto-fanatics and mechanics have been using it to read the onboard diagnostic data from cars, newly created iPhone applications are now opening up that geeky data to a wider audience. For example, an app called DashCommand from Palmer Performance ($50) enables a user to scan the engine, access incline data, view your braking and acceleration usage in real time, and see how often you skid on a track.
Another application called Rev, created by Dev Toaster, uses the KiWi WiFi connection to enable a user to monitor speed, RPM, fuel consumption, engine coolant temperature, and fuel pressure, among other things. Check out these user videos of high performance cars and race track drivers using Rev on the roads.
A third iPhone app called FuzzyCar, made by FuzzyLuke, is compatible with the Kiwi WiFi and has an analysis engine that crunches the data about the car over time, or multiple cars over time, to enable the user to see trends in efficiency and performance.
At the end of the day, these products are still for the green car geeks out there who are willing to buy aftermarket car gear and take the time to learn how to use it. But cell phone apps are emerging, like Virtual Vehicles Company, that use GPS data to create travel and performance data a lot more cheaply than embedded car hardware, and connected automaker services like GM’s Onstar are becoming a lot more common. Expect this type of data — in whatever form it takes — to become a fundamental platform for vehicles one day. Here comes Car 2.0.
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