Fuse Seeks to Meld Your Car Data With Your World

Amy Castor
Oct. 22 2013, 11:00AM EDT

You have heard of fitness apps that collect personal data? Well, now a system is in the works that will quantify your car data as well. Eventually, the new platform will make your personal car data available in an API for use in other apps and services.

Utah-based Fuse is developing a platform that promises to link your car with your world. The system, which consists of a onboard gizmo, a smartphone app, and a unique type of personal cloud storage, will do things like monitor teen driving, track fuel usage, and capture trip info.

The onboard gizmo takes information from your car’s onboard diagnostic system (OBD), located under the dashboard, and combines it with geolocation data. It then sends that data up to the cloud. The smartphone app uses the data to do things like tell you about your driving patterns or shoot a message over to one of your carpool buddies to let them know you are minutes away.

Fuse founder Phil Windley says three things separate Fuse from other car data apps like Automatic, which connect your car and smartphone. Number one, Fuse stores your car's data in a personal cloud database, as opposed to a centralized service.

Actually, the term 'personal cloud database' is not quite accurate, says Windley. He refers to the type of storage Fuse uses as persistent computer objects, or PICOs. A PICO is a small virtual online computer. It has its own identity, its own storage, and its own APIs for accessing other services.

“In a lot of systems, privacy is by agreement, where a company agrees not to use or sell or distribute your data,” said Windley. “In our system, it is privacy by design. There is no way for me to run an SQL command across all of the data and say, for example, ‘show me all of the drivers who sped last night.’”

Second, while other systems rely on Bluetooth to send information directly to your smartphone, the Fuse device has its own cellular modem and its own GPS.

“Our system sends data up to the cloud whether there is a smartphone in the car of not,” said Windley. He went on to explain that, as a result, the device works even if the car is stolen or towed or if someone else is driving the car. The device is always on and always transmitting data.

Third, the goal of Fuse is to make car data useful to a person’s everyday life. The Fuse app has the potential to do things like send a parent a notification when a teen driver is going too fast or let you know if your car has a mechanical problem. It might even let you know if your mother's car needs an oil change.

"We don't want to just get data out of your car," said Windley, who has a Ph.D. in computer science and envisions a world where everything is connected. "That's interesting, but most people want that data in context, and that is really what we are trying to do."

Fuse is a self-founded project. It is also gaining traction with a profile on Kickstarter, a service that allows startups to pitch projects online for community support. If you are interested in learning more about what a PICO is, you can read about it in Windley's blog.

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