The federal government is helping to fund a project that will adapt a telematics application originally designed for the business-to-business market to consumers who might want to get more information about their cars.
Sustainable Technology Development Canada, along with a range of private sector partners, have formed a consortium led by Ottawa’s Netistix Techologies Corp. that will create a vehicle monitoring system. Information about engine performance, idling time or driving habits would be downloaded from a vehicle via Wi-Fi when it approached a checkpoint such as a gas station, for example, to a central server. This data could then be made available to consumers for a fee so that they could lower their fuel consumption, or identify repair problems earlier on. Other partners include Petro-Canada Certigard, Carleton University and the Automotive Industries Association of Canada.
Netistix has specialized in providing similar telematics products to assist corporate enterprises in better fleet management. Its vice-president of marketing and sales John Woronczuk said the consumer project represents an opportunity to leverage its business-to-business expertise into a broader space.
“It’s a change in terms of technology,” he said. “It will have to be smaller, cheaper, more consumer-friendly. There would also be an educational process where we would be looking to Petro-Canada as a channel partner to communicate it to the consumer.”
Many of the details of the project have yet to be determined. Woronczuk said Netistix has to figure out, for instance, what kind of price point consumers will be willing to accept, the range of services the technology could provide and where consumers would acquire them.
“Is it going to be best served through fuel station or through a service and repair shop?” he said. “It might be something that would work through an insurance company.”
There may be different channels through which consumers would access telematics reports, Woronczuk added, including a hard copy report, a Web portal or an e-mail report which would be pushed to them automatically. The consortium will also have to decide who will host the central server, and where.
Egil Juliussen, an analyst with the Telematics Research Group based in Chicago, said the project would expand on what others in the field have attempted before, including General Motors and its OnStar program.
“We believe it’s a selling point when you want to sell a used car, to be able to say, ‘Here’s monthly things about how my car is doing,’” he said. “One of the big features is oil changes, a system that measures when the oil should be changed instead of going by the 3,000 miles that most people do. That was based on 1970s technology. Today you can use it three times as long.”
Woronczuk said the project would involve plugging in a Wi-Fi product into a vehicle near the passenger compartment under the dash, about 18 inches from the steering column. Netistix will also have to modify the GUI of its fleet management application and the way reports are displayed, he added. “We still have a lot of decisions to make, focus groups we’ll be conducting,” he said.
The consortium plans to have hardware available for pilot in consumer vehicles in nine to 10 months, with the entire project taking about a year and a half.