Dash Aims To Turn Driving Machines Into Data-Driven Machines

Dash Labs lets users transform their regular car into a smart car. The app interfaces with a dongle, sold separately, that plugs into a port beneath the steering wheel and connects via Bluetooth.

dashappBut driver data isn’t something marketers commonly use, so company CEO and co-founder Jamyn Edis is on a mission to prove that value.

The rich data set drivers create includes information on fuel efficiency, location, the type of car, its age, engine health, type of trip (is it a commute, a road trip a business trip?) and driver behavior – an almost literal manifestation of data exhaust.

Dash (not to be confused with the app for programmers that got kicked out of the App Store last year) gathers and/or licenses four primary types of data, around 100 million data points across 150 countries generated by a user group of nearly 400,000 people driving almost 30,000 different makes, models and years of cars.

The first data bucket is split in two: basic data pulled directly from the car itself (RPM, fuel level, speed, engine temperature) and proprietary data it needs to license from the manufacturer, like if the electronic windshield wipers are on (inference: it’s raining) or if the seatbelt is unbuckled while the car is in motion (inference: unsafe driver).

The second is spatial and time data, including GPS and acceleration patterns, followed by driver and demographic data that users provide during the app registration process. Finally, Dash pulls in metadata through API integrations with apps like Foursquare and collects ambient data around the driving experience: What’s the weather? Is it raining? Is there traffic? What are the road conditions?

Dash packages and sells that information sans PII in several formats to insurance companies, car manufacturers, aftermarket car parts companies and enterprise players like trucking fleets.

Through a data-sharing partnership with car shopping site Edmunds.com, for example, Dash provides VIN numbers, after explicit user opt-in, and Edmunds matches them for lead-gen and attribution purposes against its database to determine whether a car has any recalls, what its maintenance schedule is and how much the owner would get if it was sold based on the current odometer reading.

The New York City Department of Transportation uses Dash to track emissions around the city. A 2015 program launched by the DOT allows New York drivers to earn a 30% discount on Allstate auto insurance by downloading Dash and displaying safe driving habits.

And last summer, in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, Dash worked with Ford in Europe to prove out the performance of its cars under real-world conditions so the auto brand could demonstrate that its marketing claims reflected the reality.

There’s also “an enormous universe of brands to partner with” to help sell stuff, Edis said. “People spend a lot of money on [their cars] – it’s not niche.”

If Dash’s predictive analytics detects that a battery is likely about to fail, for example, it’s able to notify the user along with a deal or coupon on where to have it replaced and which brand to buy. Dash has a partnership in place with a large multinational auto parts manufacturer (the name isn’t public) to do just that.

But partnerships with data players like Experian and Equifax remain elusive. Although there’s interest on both sides – Dash meets with Experian on a regular basis to discuss road-map opportunities – scale is an issue.

Even though Dash is closing in on 400,000 users – which is high for the sector, according to Edis – there’s not enough reach to make its data available programmatically on ad exchanges or to power targeted automated marketing campaigns.

“Our numbers are good, but when you’re thinking of creating an addressable user base that’s going to make sense for what buyers and large brands need to do, it’s just not large enough yet,” Edis said.

Dash spends a lot of time on business development, both inbound and outbound, but it’s really an engineering-centric company at heart.

“We’re in phase one as a company and doing the hard part of acquiring people user by user,” Edis said. There’s a lot of friction during the setup process – users actually have to buy and then install a separate piece of hardware – but it’s worth it in the long run in terms of data quality, he said.

Although it’s possible to use the phone’s built-in sensors to make inferences about what’s happening in a car – how fast it’s driving, if someone is speeding or hard-braking – the results aren’t exact. If someone’s on a train or a bus, the app might think the person’s driving. Or if the passenger gets a hold of the driver’s phone and starts gesticulating, the app might think the car has been in an accident.

“When Dash works as it should, a person gets in their car with their phone in their pocket and the app running in the background,” Edis said. “They turn the key, Dash comes to life and starts tracking your trip.”

The experience can also extend outside of the car through IFTTT (If This Then That), a web-based interface that allows people to trigger connections and actions between services. It’s a way to create internet-of-things connections through the “path of least resistance,” Edis said.

For example, an authenticated user could visit Dash’s IFTTT channel to automatically log trips in Evernote, get a notification anytime Dash senses that gas is low, automatically turn down their Nest thermostat when the car leaves the house and a host of other service linkages.

This is the 11th installment of Home Screen, a series of profiles on mobile pubs and apps and the devs who make them (and hopefully make money on them). Read about home décor app Lux, teen voting app Wishbone, wedding planner platform The Knot, lip-syncing app Musical.ly, pop culture magazine Movie Pilot, news app News Republic, laundry startup Cleanly, music streaming app LaMusica, P2P global shopping app Grabrkid-friendly chat app Jet.meanonymous app Whisperstorytelling app Episodeweather app Poncho, online writing community Wattpad and sticker app Emogi.

 

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