Two years ago, when Mojio was nothing but vapourware, its founder, Jay Giraud, launched an Indiegogo campaign to suss out demand for his big idea. What Mr. Giraud found surprised him.
High-end Internet-enabled 'connected cars,' then as now, were attracting widespread interest. But what about the millions of cars already on the road, or the majority of new cars that are still rolling off the lines without a connected-car package?
The Vancouver company proposed a solution, which came to fruition this week as the finished product goes on sale: A little device that plugs discretely into a port under your car's dashboard, that connects its computers to the Internet, enabling them to report everything from its battery levels to fuel economy to whether or not it's being towed, all via apps on your smartphone or computer.
That original Indiegogo campaign attracted maybe 300 consumers, Mr. Giraud recalls, but the most intense interest came from another quarter altogether: Prospective app developers, who wanted to write programs that used data from cars.
"What we did get from the campaign was 50 companies coming to us, saying this is revolutionary for us," says Mr. Giraud.
Some were roadside assistance companies for whom 80 per cent of their calls were for dead batteries, and realized the benefit of having cars send out a low-battery warning. About a third of them, were insurance companies that wanted to know more about their clients' driving habits: Imagine how much better a company could assess a driver's risk profile if it actually new, from car computers, how fast they accelerate and brake?
This is Mojio's real play: Its goal isn't just to get cars online; but to become the global platform for writing apps that talk to cars. "The killer app for Mojio became the open platform," says Mr. Giraud.
The connected car is an increasingly competitive arena. Automakers are duking it out with competing systems that blend "in-vehicle entertainment" with analytics about how a car is performing. But these tend to only be installed as part of high-end packages, leaving a huge aftermarket of cars that will be on the road for a decade to come.
Mojio isn't so concerned with entertainment, and doesn't require a dashboard screen. Instead, it's a little box that plugs into a car's diagnostics port; the port that mechanics have been using to peek inside virtually all cars since 1996, offering readings from a slew of sensors.
Mojio takes these readings and synthesizes them into a set of simple metrics and events, like acceleration, fuel efficiency, location, whether the ignition has been turned on – among many others. App developers can then write programs that query this information from any Mojio-equipped car.
In many cases, Mojio has to calculate or deduce these events for itself. For instance, Mojio can determine whether a car has crashed or is being towed, but not because the car itself knows this. It infers a crash from a very sudden deceleration; a tow by detecting that the front of the car is being raised while the ignition is off and the driver's not inside.
Some apps might be built especially for cars, like ones that automatically pay for parking at garages, no trip to the machine required. Others might simply adapt existing functionality for car use. For instance, expense-tracking applications can now skip the whole process of entering mileage information, simply by having the app ask the car. And Glympse, a popular app that lets you broadcast your location on a map to selected friends in real-time, is an early Mojio adopter. Glympse is typically battery-hungry, and can be a drain on a smartphone, if you were to load it up and put it in the passenger seat. But, with a Mojio, the app can have the car itself broadcast its location to the Internet.
The Mojio box costs $169 in Canada, and comes with a year of airtime. Out of the box, it comes with a starter app that gives drivers access to their cars' diagnostics. The company has negotiated cell-data deals with networks across North America. (It has even negotiated cross-border roaming for its data.) After that, it's $6.99 a month, but Mr. Giraud says it's not looking to make money from subscriptions: Its long-term goal is to grow a large customer base, then charge developers fractional costs for querying their data.
It's a market he says is huge, and untapped – and as the Internet of Things envelops everything from cars to watches, it's one that more and more consumers will be paying attention to. "Nobody's really focused on the hundreds of million of cars that are on the road today, and will be on the road for years."