I have the smartest house on the block with a wifi-enabled thermostat and garage door opener, along with a complex web of wireless speakers and even multiple 802.11 hotspots that auto-prioritize traffic to ensure things like streaming video always work great.
Heck, my computer bag is jammed full of wires, cables, flash drives and adapters, so it’s smart too. And my cellphone? It’s an iPhone so I’d say it’s pretty darn smart, and with about a zillion bluetooth devices paired, it’s also able to connect and hook in to all sorts of different devices.
In fact, it’s about time my car gained a bit more of a brain. It’s a Toyota Highlander Hybrid, so it has a lot of on-board computer systems, and the nav system has lots of capabilities, but by comparison with my other devices, it really isn’t very smart at all.
Until I plugged in an Audiobox Car Connection device. Now the car has all sorts of interesting data reporting capabilities…
The device is small, about the size of an old pager device. Oh, you probably don’t know what that is, do you? It’s about the size of a yo-yo, 2.5 x 1 x 2 inches. But that doesn’t really matter because once you plug it in to a hidden plug under your dashboard you’ll never have to touch it or even think about it again. It just works.
Turns out that every vehicle sold in the United States since 1996 has an OBD-II on-board diagnostic system. That’s what mechanics use to gain access to the data that all of those on-board computers are analyzing and saving, but what makes the Car Connection so cool is that it makes all that data available to us without a mechanic in the loop.
Essentially, once you plug it into the ODB-II port and go online to mycar-connection.com and registering the device and indicating what kind of car you’ve hooked it to, it begins reporting data to the Audiovox server on a regular basis. If you’re driving, it’s reporting in every 5 minutes. If your car is turned off, it’s reporting every 60min.
Once you’ve plugged it in and registered it, then you can pop over to the Audiovox site and gain access to a surprisingly varied range of information:
From top left to bottom right, row by row, that gets you access to Fuel Economy (the “21″ is showing my average miles per gallon), Driver Scoring (I get a “78″ because of some acceleration issues, as you’ll see shortly), Vehicle Health (“98″ because it hasn’t flagged any necessary maintenance for my vehicle yet, Safety Zones, Location and Settings.
Safety Zones are also known as geo-fences and let you define where it’s acceptable for the car to go — for example, home to school to the market — so that it’ll notify you if the car leaves that area.
Fuel economy shows you how you’re doing with gas mileage:
Not so great, actually. I’m usually around 25mpg with this vehicle. And the recommendation of optimal MPH? That’s actually pretty useless since that optimal speed is really only useful on side streets.
The Driver Scoring is a bit more interesting, and shows that I am driving a bit more aggressively in the last few days than usual:
Far more interesting on this particular page, however, is what’s lower down on the page:
Excessive acceleration? Apparently there’s no Need for Speed option that gives you points for driving like you’re in a video game. Go figure.
Still when I think of younger drivers, the ability to review data that flags unsafe or dangerous driving patterns seems invaluable. This is interesting data for your own vehicle, but is super useful if you have a newer driver in the house.
One more slick feature: geoloation checkins, as shown on this map:
This is the list of all places where my car checked in with the Audiovox server (every ten minutes) during the day today, and the blue marker shows the current location of the vehicle — I’m at my friend’s house as I write this and if it were interactive, you could click and zoom all the way to the street view level.
All of these capabilities make the Car Connection a brilliant way to monitor teens who are just learning how to drive or perhaps have a hard time going where they promise they’ll go.
Of course, it’s also great information for any vehicle owner and makes it really easy to keep track of when the car needs maintenance, whether it’s an oil change, tire rotation, air filter or anything else. And when you forget where you parked the car at the mall or airport? The mobile app’s got you covered: it can show you exactly where the car is relative to your current location.
At about $169 with everything you need and free smart phone apps for iPhone, Android or Blackberry devices, the Audiovox Car Connection is a really interesting way to smarten up your car and learn a lot more about your driving, your fuel efficiency, where the car goes and more. I’m going to keep mine plugged in and collect data for a few months to see some big picture trends.