A company known for supplying Canadians with automotive information is getting into the product development game.
Last week London, On.-based Carproof Corp. officially announced the launch of its new Product Lab, located at Kitchener, On. incubator Communitech Hub, where it joins a community of more than 1400 tech companies that includes both startups and global corporations.
True to its name, the Lab’s chief directive will be to develop new digital-first products that take advantage of its 17-year-old parent company’s extensive automotive industry data, such as a version of its Android and iOS app that uses machine learning to identify a vehicle’s history, model, and value based on its photo, Carproof vice-president of product development Greg Beckman told ITBusiness.ca.
“I joined Carproof [in April] with a mandate to take our products to the next level,” he says, noting that the lab’s proximity to Kitchener’s famous startup scene and the nearby University of Waterloo, of which Beckman himself is a graduate – to say nothing of the wider Toronto-Waterloo corridor – were key reasons the company made the lab a priority and chose the location it did.
“[Carproof president] Mark Rousseau and I are both passionately interested in innovation, and it’s sometimes tricky to get that jumpstarted,” he says. “Being from [the Kitchener-Waterloo] region, one thing I appreciate is the tech ecosystem and talent that brings, so it became really important to me that we become part of that.”
Since August the company has hired 12 people to work at the lab, including product managers, user experience designers, a technical operations lead, and a new data science team. And according to Beckman, it plans to double that workforce over the next year.
“We really want to step up everything that we’re doing with our technology and products,” he says. “Running the Lab, not to mention Communitech’s resources and ecosystem, really helps us with that.”
“It’s also a little bit closer to the Toronto area, where we have some key partners and customers, so it gives us real estate we can use to better integrate with them,” he adds.
For now, the majority of the Lab’s work has been focused on data science, using machine learning and AI to more effectively take advantage of Carproof’s library of automotive records, while incorporating the information extracted into new products such as the photo-based app, which was demonstrated at the Lab’s Nov. 22 opening but is not yet publicly available.
“It’s a pretty cool app,” Beckman says with more than a little pride. “Whether a vehicle has a license plate or not we’re able to identify its characteristics and provide information like a vehicle history report and valuation… It’s a clear innovation, because previously you’d have to look up all of this information about your car manually, and making it as simple as taking a photo and getting the information on your phone gives consumers and dealer a really powerful reason to interact with us.”
The app illustrates the Lab’s overriding goal: to keep track of new trends, innovations, and technology in the automotive industry and marrying them with the company’s industry-leading library of data in a way that is more engaging, accurate, and efficient than previous methods.
“We’re already seeing the benefits of becoming a member of the tech ecosystem,” Beckman says.