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The Ride Ahead

Smart Cars for Everyone

How Voyo is bringing a new type of connectivity to consumers.

Connectivity in cars is opening up new opportunities for the experiences we have in our vehicles and the relationships we have with them; it gives drivers more information and greater control than ever before. When multiple cars connect to cloud-based systems, cars and their drivers can share aggregated information and make better decisions. Many different layers of technology facilitate connectivity, and often the most innovative solutions exist in the aftermarket ecosystem. Through our venture arm, frogVentures™, we are partnering with Voyomotive as that startup launches a cutting-edge connected-car platform called Voyo.

The platform centers on an On-board Diagnostics (OBD) controller that is easily installed into the standard OBD-II port of cars built since 1996. Together with a set of optional relays, Voyo gives the driver greater insights and the ability to control the vehicle in new ways. Benefits include enhanced security and fuel efficiency, while the Voyo Cloud will leverage aggregated data to provide new sources of value, including notifying other drivers of adverse driving conditions, alerting city officials to infrastructure issues, and establishing patterns related to attempted vehicle theft. Below we interview Voyomotive CEO Peter Yorke about this revolutionary new platform.

How is Voyo different from the competition?

Cars generate a tremendous amount of data, and there are a range of scan tools available to read various levels of that data through the OBD-II port. Recently, a number of new companies have started developing OBD-II hardware with phone applications to use some of that data. Often, these companies have roots in the IT development world but with limited automotive experience. As a result, their OBD-II readers are very basic and can typically only read a limited amount of generic data from one to three of the car’s computers, or “controllers.”

Voyo, however, is based on an advanced, high-speed data logger used by car manufacturers. Voyomotive has an R&D center in Michigan staffed by a team of automotive engineers and computer scientists. Voyo can read generic data but also proprietary manufacturers’ codes and can communicate with almost all of a car’s computers. This capability lets us create a whole new class of apps compared to what is presently available.

The Voyo platform also allows the user to create a network of hardware using the Voyomotive wireless relays that operate under the control of Voyo. This expanded system enables control over the car’s engine and security systems. One example is EcoStart, which is the world’s first aftermarket, plug-and-play Start/Stop system to decrease idling. EcoStart allows drivers to decide when to shut off the engine of a stopped vehicle using the footbrake. The Voyo + Voyomotive relays enable a number of other applications to increase security and safety for both consumers and fleets.

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Why have existing OBD-II readers seen low adoption?

Existing apps largely relay a limited amount of generic data, limiting their functionality to applications such as trip logs or providing driving tips to save gas. These are novel at first and useful to some degree, but not very compelling applications in the long run.

In contrast, Voyo provides a number of features that encourage people to change how they interact with their cars on a daily basis. In addition to EcoStart, Voyo allows drivers to automatically lock/unlock their car doors and trunk based on a cell phone’s proximity to a vehicle. Voyo can also crowd source roadside alerts. If cars are using anti-lock brakes, stability control or swerving at a given location, Voyo sends an alert out for other drivers to see in the Voyo app. It is like Waze but without the distraction to the driver. Voyo also supports security features such as vehicle immobilization and can provide a diagnostic scan of your car that is typically found only at a service center.

What are some of the ways Voyo’s data might be used for public good?

We envision several ways the connected car ecosystem will benefit all drivers and non-drivers alike. When Voyo drivers use the EcoStart functionality to reduce their idling time, the amount of pollution decreases, which benefits everyone. Same with CO2.

Furthermore, the roadside data generated by our user base can be shared with mapping apps to warn all drivers (and non-drivers) of hazardous road conditions, as well as poor weather. In an upcoming release, city planners and transit officials can use Voyo to improve infrastructure (for example, to identify potholes to be repaired).

A final example relates to anti-theft protection. Voyo supports a number of security features, and in our upcoming cellular-equipped Voyo, a message can be sent not only to the police but also to the owners of all cars with Voyo in the same area in the event of an attempted break in.

Voyo collects a lot of driver and car data. What are the potential security and safety implications of the connected car and how is Voyo addressing these issues?

The first way we address this is through Advanced Encryption System (AES) 256, which is military grade. We apply it at every level of the platform, which presents the first line of deterrence against hacking. The next step we take to protect our users is to anonymize and obfuscate all of the data that are made available to the community. While it is helpful to know that several drivers are swerving at a given time/location, the community does not need to know which drivers are involved. So we remove all personal information before aggregating data.

Finally, we give customers the option to remove or opt out of the types of information that is shared or they can choose not to send any information to the Voyomotive cloud altogether. Customers can still use Voyo without connecting to the cloud and still take advantage of a variety of the features specific to an individual car. We take the issue of data security and safety seriously and empower people to interact in a way that works for them.

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What role will design play in Voyo’s success?

For us design is one important way to set ourselves apart from competition. The functionality of the Voyo platform is unparalleled, so we wanted the product to look as special as it is. We wanted the packaging and the unboxing experience to reflect the value that this platform can provide. The industrial design and out-of-box experience frog designed sends the message that this is not just a tech gadget — this is a product with a little bit of magic in it.

That was something we knew when we were building out the technology, but thoughtful design allowed us to translate it into the physical product. By working with frog, we landed on a series of principles that could guide our decisions and help us create a consistently compelling experience. We’re excited to share it soon.

What is next for Voyo?

The next step is to launch our Kickstarter this fall, which will focus on getting Voyo into 1,000 to 1,500 cars. From there, we can pilot the technology to fine tune apps and the cloud-based systems before a full consumer launch.

We are planning an upcoming launch of our API for developers who want to build apps using the robust vehicle data that can be collected by Voyo. We expect this to be a very interesting release for the development community. The competition typically tracks somewhere around 10 vehicle operating parameters, whereas our API will track 10 times that amount. This type of data will be a treasure trove for both app designers and system integrators. The development community is important to Voyo’s value, so we want to give its members the tools they need to make great apps.

Amy

Amy MacMillan

As global editor, Amy works with frogs around the world to craft stories about the impact of design and technology on society.

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Dan Chen

Dan Chen is a strategist at frog. His passions lie at the intersection of technology, architecture and cities. He received his MBA from Stanford GSB and his undergraduate degree in economics from Harvard University.

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Michael Robertson

Michael is an Associate Strategy Director in frog's San Francisco studio. As part of frog's Venture Design team he works closely with startups and entrepreneurs to help them bring incredible products and experiences to life.

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