A few months ago, just as the weather was starting to warm, a green Mini Cooper convertible rolled to a stop in front of Business Insider’s New York City headquarters. The door popped open and Jamyn Edis greeted me with a beaming smile and a pair of aviators. We were ready to take a Dash around Manhattan.
Jamyn Edis and Brian Langel have been creating smart technology products for more than two decades combined. Last year, as HBO’s VP of Emerging Technology and Research Development, Edis entered the New York startup scene and advised founders going through a competitive accelerator program called TechStars.
Now, the mentor has become the mentee. Edis and Langel recently founded a company called Dash, which was selected to be one of 11 startups in the 2013 TechStars New York class. Dash’s goal is to turn all vehicles into talking, data-collecting smart cars using nothing but a plastic dongle and a mobile app.
Dash has been likened to wearable fitness trackers Fitbit and Nike FuelBand. But instead of tracking how many steps a person takes in a day, Dash collects 300 real-time data points about cars and their drivers. It examines everything from the accelerometer, to location via GPS, to engine sensors. It’s all made possible by a tiny white dongle that retails for $US5 to $US40 and plugs into a car’s on-board diagnostics (OBD) port. Installation is a one-time thing that only takes a few minutes. After the dongle is installed, it beams the constantly-collected data to Dash’s smart phone app, which presents the information to drivers in a clean, intuitive way.
The point of wearing Fuelband or Fitbit is to help you make healthy lifestyle choices. But what’s the point of collecting real-time data for your car?
Edis and his co-founder see three consumer benefits and many more enterprise benefits.
For consumers, Dash promises safety, savings, and social features.
When Dash finally launches on iOS and Android (the app is still in closed beta), Edis says it will have a number of safety components built in, such as an automatic dialling of 911 if the platform senses you’ve been in a crash. If the check engine light turns on, Dash will be able to tell you what’s wrong with your car, how much it will cost to fix it, and where to get it repaired.
Dash will also help you save money by showing you the cheapest gas stations nearby. And for great drivers, it can use the data it collects to help them snag better insurance rates.
Edis says he’ll never sell a user’s data to insurance companies. “We empower the driver to gather his or her own data,” he explains. “If it’s good data, we’ll tell you your information and show you better insurance rates. We create a fire wall between the insurance companies and you.”
As for the social element, Dash allows you to share driving information with friends and on social networks. If you’re on a road trip, for example, you can tag friends and let others know how far you just drove. Social stats will also pop up on the app in a competitive leaderboard.
One person who knows all about location and gamification is Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, who is one of Dash’s advisors and mentors. He’s been helping Edis test his startup since before Dash entered TechStars.
As an enterprise play, Dash’s data collection is an obvious appeal for insurance providers. It’s also appealing to repair shops who could generate leads from the app and car manufacturers, who could use it to add consumer benefits to their vehicles. Edis says his team is already in talks with a few major manufacturers.
Right now, Dash is in the middle of raising a round of financing from investors. Edis says the round is over-subscribed and his company is a trending item on funding platform, AngelList. His team set out to raise $US1.2 million but by the time the fundraise is done, Dash will likely raise closer to $US2 million. The app is expected to launch on multiple mobile platforms in the next three to six months.
Below is a clip of Edis explaining Dash during our joyride around Manhattan.