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Technology started by accident puts safer, smarter, greener cars on road

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A serious collision in 1999 that nearly totalled the family car got Otman Basir thinking. His wife had been cut off by a careless driver but ended up blamed for the accident, because she crashed into the other car from behind. It was her word against his; there was no way to prove what happened.

Dr. Basir, a professor of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo specializing in intelligent systems design, set about developing new technology that could show which driver was at fault – and help prevent such accidents altogether.

“It transforms the vehicle into a wireless appliance and maximizes its utility,” Dr. Basir, CEO and founder of Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS) in Waterloo, says of his DriveSync connected car platform, which delivers a safer, smarter and greener driving experience.

The system uses a small device that plugs into the car’s OBD-2 port, commonly located under the steering wheel, as well as mobile apps on smartphones. They sense and collect information about the car and how it’s driven, then connect via cellular networks to cloud-based enterprise software. This in turn uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze huge amounts of data for various purposes.

DriveSync makes possible uses such as monitoring driver behaviour and offering coaching tips, measuring vehicle idling times to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diagnosing mechanical trouble and calling for roadside assistance, recording and paying for the car’s use of road networks, as well as documenting and reporting accidents to authorities.

“The sky’s the limit,” Dr. Basir says, noting that the IMS platform is also part of popular usage-based insurance programs offered by 15 leading global insurers to monitor the driving skills of customers. Insurers with DriveSync are attracting drivers with fewer incidents and better driving records, Dr. Basir says. One company reports that claims have dropped by 30 per cent.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is using DriveSync to measure road usage and charge drivers for the distance they travel. Parents of young drivers, meanwhile, can use it for driver training and to set boundaries beyond which their kids shouldn’t travel. If they do, DriveSync sends a text message to mom and dad.

With the evolving Internet of Things, the technology will provide everything from traffic intelligence and infotainment to applications that connect to devices such as Fitbits, smart watches, smart thermostats and smoke detectors in the home, Dr. Basir predicts. “Applications are growing exponentially.”