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Will Truvolo Make Teens Safer Drivers?

Dan Tynan
Yahoo Tech

Crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo let inventors appeal directly to the public for funds. They’ve made a lot of entrepreneurial dreams come true.

If you’re inspired by the inventor’s pitch video, you send some money. It’s not an investment; you don’t get rich if the invention becomes a hit. But you do get some memento — a T-shirt or a discounted version of the invention once it’s manufactured — and the rosy glow of knowing that you helped bring a cool idea to life.

Until now, there’s been only one problem: You had no way to know if the invention was actually any good. You had to trust the inventor’s video.

That’s the beauty of our Kickstarter reviews. We actually test the prototype, find out how much promise it has and help you decide if the thing is worth funding or buying.

Today’s Invention: Truvolo Drive plugs into your car’s computer, tracks how everyone in your household drives, and tells you when something’s wrong with your vehicle.

The Claim: “Smarter driving begins today.” Truvolo Drive turns any car into a connected machine, letting you drive safer and smarter. Using the app, you can answer questions like, Is my son driving safely? How can my family use less gas? And, what’s wrong with my car?

Price: $99

Goal: $100,000

Status: With roughly three weeks left in its Indiegogo campaign, Truvolo is less than 25 percent of the way towards its goal. Unless there’s a major surge from high-octane investors, it may not make it to the finish line.

What I tested: This was an early prototype of both the device and the app, and it shows. Getting the device to connect to my WiFi Galaxy tablet was a bit of challenge, in part because it wanted a constant wireless data connection, not an intermittent WiFi one.Then, after a few trips, the device stopped collecting data, for reasons as yet unknown.

Likewise, the app is nowhere near the polished version shown in the screen-shots provided by Truvolo below. It offered little in the way of useful information beyond distance driven, average and maximum speeds, and gas used. The Web portal, on other hand, showed me data only a garage mechanic or a NASCAR pit boss would understand. That will change once the app is more fully developed, says Truvolo CEO Jaideep Jain.

What I learned: Truvolo Drive tells you things your car knows but you don’t. As an auto diagnostics tool, it’s not at all unique. There are other products like this on the market (see Automatic and Dash). But it adds additional value via what looks to be a clever smartphone app.

Like every other device of its kind, you install Drive by plugging a small device into the on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) port on your car, typically found under the glove box or the steering wheel. That’s the same port your mechanic uses to assess the health of your car, and Truvolo Drive collects essentially the same data, along with some additional info about how each driver performs behind the wheel.

You then pair it to your Android device via Bluetooth. Unlike devices like Audiovox Car Connection or Delphi Connect, Truvolo Drive doesn’t have its own GPS or mobile Internet connection. It uses your smart phone for location and to upload data to the Web portal and ultimately the app. The Truvolo device records up to 400 hours worth of driving data. But if you drive without your phone you won’t get location data, and you won’t be able to upload any of Truvolo’s data until your phone is within pairing distance again.

What Truvolo brings to the garage is the ability to track multiple drivers, not just individual cars. If your teenagers borrow the family beater, Truvolo will identify them based on their phone and record their driving data separately from yours. It will then give them a rating (five cars = could drive an ambulance; one car = danger to themselves and others) and issue alerts based on your criteria. A built-in accelerometer helps measure hard braking or sudden swerves, which are factored into the score.

So if the junior lead-foot in your household is caught doing 70 in a 35 mph zone, Truvolo can alert you and downgrade his driving score accordingly. You can then engage him in a delightful conversation about how driving is a privilege, not a right, and if he doesn’t clean up his act soon he’d better learn how to hitch hike. (Your mileage may vary.) In other words, Truvolo is more of a teaching tool than a tracking tool, which is fine.

You can also use it for your own purposes. For example, you can label some trips as business related, making it easier to track expenses. If there’s a problem with the engine, Truvolo will tell you what it is and let you search for the nearest mechanic via Google.

It will also keep track of your car’s maintenance and tell you when you’re due for a tune up or an oil change, making it not much different than any other OBD device, save for a prettier interface.

The other advantage Truvolo Drive may have is that it costs just $99 with no monthly fees, making it cheaper than Car Connection ($170 plus $10 a month) or Delphi Connect ($100 plus a two-year wireless contract). Again, though, without a smart phone nearby it’s slightly less useful than your average cup holder.

Truvolo plans to deliver a beta Android version to early Indiegogo supporters in April and a shipping version for both Android and iOS in June. It also plans to introduce premium subscription services with additional features, such as the ability to keep your teens from texting when behind the wheel.

The bottom line: Internet-connected cars are the future. If yours isn’t already connected, it probably will be soon. Whether you’ll use Truvolo Drive to do it, though, remains to be seen. You’ll have a lot of alternatives.

Still, anything that promotes driver safety should be encouraged. If you share a car with your kids and want to use Truvolo as a teaching tool, you may be willing to peel off a few greenbacks to see the project make it out of the pit and onto the track.