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  • Writer's pictureJyoti Pande

CarIQ & Zene: Startups that decode a car's natural intelligence & help it communicate with you

Aug 30, 2015, 09.10AM IST

By Jyoti Pande Lavakare

What would your car say to you if it could communicate with you? No, not if it was Christine, Stephen King's famously possessed car, but just your own, regular car parked outside your house just now.

What if it alerted you when you walked away leaving the headlights on or door unlocked, reminded you which level and exact slot of the mall parking you'd parked it at, warned you when it was being towed away, alerted you about glass breakage or a crash, monitored your engine and battery health, reminded you that a service was due, updated you on your insurance, optimised the route for best fuel economy, alerted you of traffic congestion, even predicted upcoming technical problems and — you won't like this one — nagged you when you were driving too fast, or not safely enough?

But wait, that's the role of your spouse! And what if it remembered the route to that unexpected jewel of a town you happened to come across on a driving holiday, recorded and uploaded it for you to share on your Facebook page, gave you personalised tips for smoother driving (Take your foot off the clutch! Change to a higher gear — now!), arranged roadside assistance when your engine unexpectedly died on you, found the closest workshop and remotely provided the mechanic with all engineering parameters and details? What if it made your perfect cup of coffee, said "I love you," and told you, you were the best-looking and most intelligent person it had ever met? Okay, now I'm getting carried away — and anyway, that would be kind of creepy, right?

At Your Service Well, here's the news — apart from those last three things, cars can actually do all the other chores. In fact, contemporary automobiles come equipped from the factory fully enabled to do each one of those things. It is just that all that data remains embedded in the bowels of the car and is of no use to anyone — until it is unlocked and extracted. Which is where Sagar Apte's startup CarIQ and other startups like Zene, all based on on-board diagnostics in India, come into the picture. On-board diagnostic (OBD) systems were developed in the 1980s to help technicians diagnose and service the computerised engine systems of modern vehicles. A new generation of these systems is present in most vehicles built overseas after 1996. Just think of this as the equivalent of an airplane's little black box — the repository of all the complex engineering data the vehicle has and collects over its life. In July this year, CarIQ started selling a "smartplug" that is able to download, collate, analyse and present this data in a user-friendly format through a mobile app for car owners. This tiny piece of hardware is able to plug into and decode a car's natural intelligence and, using data analytics and algorithms, can help your car communicate with you through your smartphone, tablet or any other electronic device. Interestingly, CarIQ isn't a me-too version of a global idea that has succeeded in other countries and being transplanted here, but a real "made in India" product, coincidentally conceived around the same time as other similar products globally. Like the Zubie key which plugs into your vehicle's diagnostic port and transfers data to the Zubie cloud for instant analysis, or the Automatic adaptor-cum-app which "connects your car to the rest of your digital life", according to the Automatic website. Or CloudCar,, or Metromile. Made in Pune In India, CarIQ has become the first such launch, although another plug-and-play on-board diagnostic called Zene is ready for pre-orders, and others are catching up. "I always wanted to work in the field of data analytics and IoT (internet of things).

I wanted my product to launch in India, but also be international, have a global value," says Apte, the initial CarIQ founder, speaking from Pune. He has been joined since by 26 employees, including four more cofounders: Deepak Thomas (director, product), Rajendrakumar Rajguru (director, engineering), Vinu Kanakasabhapathy (director, operations) Hrishikesh Nene ( chief technical officer) and Anuradha Kothale(project manager and quality analyst).

Apte takes pride in the flat structure of his company. "Everyone is hands-on and has more than one responsibility. And that [responsibility] isn't just for their functionalities, but also for the culture of the organisation," says Apte.

For Apte, automobiles have always been a passion. He discovered the hidden-in-plain-sight OBD under the dashboard of his car during one of the times he took his car in for servicing. Apte used to question mechanics about everything to do with his car — and it was then that the idea of using the data collected by cars' OBD systems took seed in his mind."I couldn't find any courses in mechatronics — automation electronics," says the car enthusiast, who first started working on the product in 2012, tinkering on his own until others joined in. His next challenge was finding Indian companies which manufacture what he calls "beautiful, miniature products", because he wanted to design something not larger than 1 x 1 square inches.

CarIQ raised seed capital from Pune-based Snow Leopard and Singapore-based Pose Ventures — whoserepresentative Salil Khamkar is on their board — and is now looking for Series A funding. Apart from individual sales, its client list includes CarWale and JustRide, and the startup is in talks with carmakers, a natural partner for the product. You can buy the smartplug online in both bluetooth and GSM versions. It is compatible with all cars manufactured after 2008. "The complete product...was designed, conceived and manufactured right here in Pune," says Apte proudly. The services come bundled in with the cost of the hardware with no recurring costs, but after two years, the company is considering a monthly service charge. A feature where someone will go to your house and get your spare car key and deliver it to you, if you lose yours, is already available.

Maybe it's time to consider replacing your spouse entirely — from your driving life, that is!

(The writer is an independent columnist and writer)

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