Friday, 28 December 2012

connected car m2m with Torque and Bluetooth dongle

One of the most interesting apps I have come across while researching emerging apps for a client is Torque. There is a light version, that serves more than anything to check if the hardware you bought of the internet works, however the true value is unlocked in the £2.99 pro version.
Torque main screen invites further delving
The first thing it buys I suppose, is not a product, but a service: piece of mind. I do not think its just me, but even with the modern cars of today, a trip to the dealer can be an expensive outing and when you hear a new noise or the engine reacts differently to usual for whatever reason, the mind begins to wonder if you are in for another unforeseen bill! This is particularly the case as your warranty is ending. This may also mean buying a car second hand is now a much more reliable exercise, assuming the present owner gives you permission, of course. If they do not, you probably have your purchase decision made for you!
You will be amazed at the level of detail OBD2 gives
Secondly, as anyone who has ever looked longingly at a classic Ferrari centre console and seen the three dials with oil temperature, water temperature, etc will appreciate being able to have these without recurring to some after market monstrosity. enable this HUD display mode for real man-child behaviour.

more practically, you can use it to monitor your driving style and become a little more eco, which in the real world means saving money. On a diesel a heavy foot may not make that much of a difference, but on a petrol automatic you can double the fuel economy around town at least, which at £80 to fill the tank of a small car, is £2.99 well spent!

Beyond there you can also record your trip with transparent overlay, if your morning commute involves sleepy people pulling out in front of you or road rage, you can capture it in detail with your careful and considerate speed overlaid as proof or your coffee induced wide-awakeness, as well as accurate fuel economy.

I am surprised this has not appeared in car magazines so far as a much more accurate tool, not just for comparing more details on laps and getting more data, like g-forces that a driver is subjected to, how much fuel a car used to get round a track, what revs and amount of fuel were needed to get the same performance, etc. In short; how hard a car has had to work to get the same result is a strong indicator of how good it is and moreover, how good a car is likely to be in a few years - fatigue and wear and tear are not friends of the motorist.

In order to get all this detail, you need a Bluetooth (as I have) OBD-2 or OBD-ii as it seems to be often referred to, device. I got mine off of ebay for only 3 to 4 times the price of the Torque app, search for "bluetooth obd-2" and you should see them. Mine is this one, I had a choice of getting it slowly from Hong Kong, or quickly for a premium locally... I chose to get it locally as I like supporting prospectors.
Bluetooth dongle clips into car's OBD port (where your mechanic plugs in to your car)
On my car this was under a small rubber cover under the steering column.

If you do not like the idea of cheap Bluetooth, there are more expensive wi-fi ones, which you could read from your laptop from comfort of your home, if that's what float's your boat (or if you are really geeky, the vpn to your on-board mi-fi from anywhere....) and Garmin also make an official Bluetooth one called the Garmin EcoRoute HD. When speaking to a contact in the EE (the merger of UK mobile operators Orange and T-mobile, previously called Everything Everywhere) m2m department, they also had one with a SIM in it that let's you read it from anywhere.

One interesting use, if you have, or should I say for when you have a deduct old android device, is to plug an old android permanently on power in the boot or somewhere and have tracking enabled, which may be useful in many scenarios:
  1. the event of an accident, and 
  2. For security: even more useful if your car is stolen - with not only the record of where it is, but also any speed or other related crimes committed as well. If you are lucky enough to have several houses and associated cars or a collection of cars you can also ensure that nobody misuses them.
  3. if you have a family member who is on your insurance and known for accidents, or very young, you can at least incentivise good driving (I cannot see a mode to remotely disable a car being abused!)
  4. if you run a small fleet of vehicles as a business, good driving by your employees is part of your brand and image, as well as the obvious locating ability, will be very useful.
  5. if you are a control freak or technologist in general. (I am glad to say I am the latter)
So by now many will be asking: why no apple app? Well Apple, rightly or wrongly (there is a case for both) only allows connectivity from Bluetooth devices with an apple security chip in it, and no of course your $10 device from Hong Kong does not have one. For apple devotees you will need the wi-fi devices, which for some reason are ten times the cost of the Bluetooth versions.

The best consumer use of this is to get a nexus 7, for example, or an android handset and enable wi-fi sharing and you have wi-fi in your car as well as diagnostics. And no that knocking noise is not about to become a £700 bill... or is it!

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