Get “Connected” With These 5 Leading Car Technology Companies

Car Phone Projection

As the modern world grows ever more connected, automobile manufacturers and insurance companies are now turning to technology to develop smarter cars and smarter insurance. Tesla, Ford, and Toyota have all brought connected cars to the market within the last year or so, and insurance companies have been using telematics data for a while. Through smart car technology, these companies can tailor their offerings based on customer use — an ability that allows them to minimize their risks while giving consumers exactly what they need.

This sounds like exciting news, but what if you want a connected car without buying direct from a manufacturer or switching insurance providers? Car companies and insurance agencies typically have their own motives for developing connected cars — a simple fact that’s sometimes revealed in limited control of and insight into personal driving data. These companies are more interested in the machine and the data and its benefits to them rather than to you, the driver.

Fortunately, that’s changing. A number of consumer-facing connected car technology companies have started using the Internet of Things (IoT) to create apps and smart gadgets to transform traditional, “dumb” cars into smart ones. With the right app and adaptor, you can have the features of a smart car without the hefty price tag or data privacy concerns. Here’s a look at six major connected car platforms that can help get you on the road to smart integration.

1. Automatic

Automatic was founded in 2012 in Silicon Valley on the credo that a consumer should be able to have a smart car without having to purchase one. To that end, the company works to provide a platform that uses the technologies of today to solve the driving problems of tomorrow. And while Automatic is one of the simpler platforms on this list, it does its job remarkably well.

Automatic oversees and automates a whole host of car-related services: it can run engine diagnostics, locate parked cars, and notify service representatives in the event of a crash. That third feature is especially noteworthy — if you’re ever in a serious collision, a professional agent will reach out to verify your condition, contact local emergency services, and even call your loved ones.

The device’s essential functions all run quietly in the background, keeping you safe and distraction-free when on the road. Plus, because Automatic works with your phone’s existing data plan, you won’t have to worry about footing an additional subscription fee every month.

To get started, users simply need to plug the Automatic adapter into the on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) port, then download the app — available on iOS and Android — and connect it to the device via Bluetooth. Once it’s connected, you can use Automatic as-is or link it to IFTTT, a web-based service that allows you to connect to various other smart devices like Amazon Echo, Jawbone UP, and Philips Hue. If you want to get more into the nuts and bolts of Automatic, you can do that, too; the company has a dedicated portal for developers who want to build applications on the technology’s platform.

Price: Automatic costs $99.95. If you don’t love the device, the company offers a 45-day return policy.

2. Dash

Dash was founded in 2012 in another tech mecca: Silicon Alley. This company’s goal is to make any car “smarter” via its connected car platform, and it has been doing well with the goal so far — just this year it was named the winner of the Innovation Weekend New York pitch event. Dash is also a partner in New York City’s “Drive Smart” pilot, a campaign designed to help solve traffic infrastructure issues and help users drive more safely.

The Dash app, available for iOS and Android, has a multitude of smart features. You can track real-time personal driving diagnostics, decode “check engine” alerts, and even keep abreast of maintenance needs and recalls. If you’re part of the “Drive Smart” pilot in New York, you may also see financial benefits through Allstate auto insurance.

Competitive users will love Dash — the app features a leaderboard where safe driving rewards you with a “pole position” and prizes. And if you want to link Dash with some of your other connected devices, you can build on its existing features with IFTTT to create a customized platform that fits your exact needs.

Price: The Dash app works with a variety of OBD adapters, providing buyers with a range of price points. Basic devices start at $10, while high-end options range up towards $149. The company recommends using one of the mid-level models — at $59 — to gain access to all the features and rich data sets.

3. DriveSync

The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) awarded DriveSync, from Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS), an Ingenious Award for the company’s work in using technology to improve driver safety and performance. Unlike other devices and apps that focus on consumers alone, DriveSync works to bridge the gap between users and their insurance companies.

The DriveSync car platform is extremely flexible. It easily integrates with a variety of add-on services, allowing subscribers to customize their driving experience. Even without the optional features, DriveSync has an impressive repertoire of skills — the upcoming version of the device, DriveSync 5, is designed keep track of profiles for different drivers, score users on their driving, and give feedback to encourage safer practices.

One potential disadvantage with DriveSync technology is that it isn’t as easily accessible as other devices listed here. You either have to purchase the platform through an IMS program like Young Drivers Intelligence or receive the adapter from a participating insurance company. But despite that limited availability, the technology provides interesting insight into what insurance companies monitor, so it’s definitely worth investigating.

Price: The DriveSync adapter costs $140.00 upfront, accompanied by a $9.99–$14.99 monthly subscription fee for the Young Drivers Intelligence program. If you’re working through an insurance carrier, the price you’ll pay is up to the individual provider — USAA, for instance, is currently trialing the DriveSync device, and members in select states can participate for free.

4. hum by Verizon

Verizon’s hum system — a platform that’s being touted as an upgraded version of Onstar — is still fairly new to the market. hum differs from other connected car technologies in that it requires two pieces of hardware — an adapter and a speaker — plus a connected iOS or Android app. The adapter plugs into the ODB-II port, while the speaker clips onto your sun visor, and both devices link to your phone via Bluetooth.

This platform covers a lot of the same benefits as others on this list — maintenance updates, fuel efficiency notifications, and car locating services — but it doesn’t stop there. The hum also offers a “chaperone” feature, allowing users to remotely track driving speed and driver behavior. You can even set driving boundaries, and the device will notify you when the car and/or driver goes out of bounds. Young drivers may hate this feature, but early reviews show parent’s love it.

If those features aren’t enough, the platform also gives consumers access to travel discounts and a mechanic hotline. Additionally, the visor speaker acts as an add-on safety feature — when you can’t reach your phone, all you have to do is press a button on the speaker to call for roadside assistance.

The main downside with hum is that it requires a monthly Verizon data plan. It also doesn’t pair well with other services, so if IoT integration is important to you, you may want to pick another option.

Price: This is one of the more expensive devices on this list. You’ll pay $50 for the equipment and $20 for activation upfront. After that, you can expect to pay a monthly $10 subscription, plus taxes and fees, as part of the required two-year subscription.

5. Zubie

Zubie is an award-winning joint venture of Best Buy and Open Air Equity Partners. Started in 2012, the company began with a focus on developing connected car technologies for consumers in the United States. They’ve now expanded globally and offer services for insurers, small businesses, large transportation fleets, and automobile dealers, all while maintaining the Zubie device and app for personal consumer use.

Zubie subscribers will see numerous benefits as soon as they start using the platform. The gadget analyzes personal driving data and environmental conditions, detects issues requiring maintenance, and facilitates trip tracking to monitor travel expenses. But what really sets Zubie apart is the In-Car Wi-Fi feature. Powered by Verizon, In-Car Wi-Fi turns your vehicle into a mobile office or entertainment center, depending on who’s in the automobile with you.

One downside of the platform is the number of apps you can connect. Fortunately, Zubie circumvents the problem somewhat through IFTTT integration. Another potential issue is the required activation of a Verizon data plan for Zubie’s In-Car Wi-Fi feature.

Price: The price depends on the number of connected devices you have. The basic Zubie is free with a $99.95 charge for 12 months of service — a fee that jumps to $179.98 for the Family 2 Pack. The Zubie + In-Car Wi-Fi has an upfront cost of $99.95 and requires a monthly Verizon data plan in addition to the $10 per month you’ll pay for the Zubie service.

Now, what do you think? Are you a fan of the growing IoT network? Which connected car app interests you the most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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