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Photo: iStockPhoto
Photo: iStockPhoto

Making ordinary cars smart, one connected device at a time

  • Until you have the budget for a smart car, IoT devices can serve as an efficient substitute
  • Though the segment is small, it is expected to grow after Jio's foray into connected car space

Connected cars are the new drivers for the automotive industry. But for users who still don’t want to give up on their existing cars, and still want a bite of the new technology, there is an emerging ecosystem of connected devices that can turn an ordinary car into a connected car.

These devices come with eSIM for internet connectivity, and IoT sensors to capture information on the health of the car, fuel requirements and rely on cameras to keep track of the driver’s distraction level by analysing their body posture and face. In case of break-in attempts, they can alert the owners via their phone.

IoT devices like these are already in use. A case in point is Zoomcar’s Cadabra—a 4G and Bluetooth-enabled IoT device that can track the distance travelled, fuel used, clutch performance, allowing car owners or drivers to keep tab on metrics like clutch position, harsh braking, inconsistent acceleration, seat belt usage and engine health.

“The advantage of a device like this is that it can be customized for each car as is required for the business. We realized that Indian drivers are more aggressive on the road with rental cars and are prone to drive rashly. Cadabra can monitor and generate data every second from the car movement to understand driving pattern," said Arpit Agarwal, director of decision science at Zoomcar. While Zoomcar’s device is used to keep track of drivers who rent out their cars, gadgets like these are also available for individual users.

One such device is Trak N Tell’s connected car solution IntelliPlay, which also takes connected car experience beyond infotainment and navigation by offering telematics platform and can provide real-time GPS location, over-speeding and geo-fencing alerts in addition to tracking driver behaviour. Such information can help car owners detect instances of rash driving, over-speeding and hard braking when someone else is behind the wheels. After an IntelliPlay is installed, the car gets a unique phone number that can be used for two-way calling. It is not tied to any smartphone, allowing anyone to call the car directly and speak to the driver.

Though the segment is small, it is expected to grow especially after the recent foray into the connected car space by telecom firm Reliance Jio, riding on a similar IoT device with a 4G-ready eSIM. Jio’s device, which was unveiled at Auto Expo 2020, can also link up with a connected 360-degree camera, keeping an eye on both the driver and road to track driver distraction by analysing the face. It will also send alerts if the driver is not wearing the seat belt. User can keep track of the route and location through a mobile app. It can be used to send alerts based on pre-defined parameters chosen by the user. Reliance Jio is still to announce the price and launch date for the connected car solution.

Starting at 18,999, the IntelliPlay device comes in different screen sizes ranging from 7 to 10 inch. The higher variants include AHD reverse camera and high-contrast screens. MapMyIndia’s plug-n-play connected device called Drive Mate, which can send a car’s location, alerts on driver behaviour and send real-time notifications when car’s ignition is turned on/off and when the device is unplugged is available at starting price of 9,990.

“IntelliPlay is an after-market product and can be used to upgrade an older car to a connected car at a fraction of what a connected car costs today. It is compatible with older mass-market cars such as a 2014 Maruti WagonR as well as new ones like 2019 Toyota Fortuner. It also supports most features in today’s connected cars and we are continually enhancing the customer experience with upgrades to the software," said Pranshu Gupta, founder and CEO, Trak N Tell. Gupta has a point. A fully connected car like Hyundai Venue which comes with Hyundai’s proprietary BlueLink technology that offers telematics and internet services starts at 6.5 lakh, for instance.

Buyers who are not interested in all the advanced features and are merely looking for something that can make a car smart and ready for voice commands, there is Amazon’s Echo Auto. Priced at 4,999, Echo Auto has Alexa in-built which can be used for playing music, making calls, listening to news and updating the to-do list using voice commands.

Connected car is the future. In a few years, all cars will have such technologies. Until you have the budget to get one, these connected devices can come in handy.

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