Like smartphone apps for the connected car, a new generation of after-market products are helping tech-savvy drivers reduce accidents, lower insurance costs, save fuel and plan routes more effectively.

Cars and trucks have become mobile computing platforms and the tech transformation is accelerating. By 2020, all new vehicles will be connected to the internet and to each other via Wi-Fi. Studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation estimate that these connected-car technologies could reduce the number of collisions by 80%.

For companies such as Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS), based in Waterloo, Ontario, this unprecedented wealth of connected-car data is a valuable resource that can help drivers save money and improve their driving skills.

IMS's DriveSync platform can collect data through automaker-installed systems, after-market devices or smartphone apps. This data, in turn, is analyzed in real-time and the results are delivered as actionable information.

That information can be used as a coaching tool for young drivers to improve driving skills, or as a fleet management system that helps commercial operators reduce fuel consumption. It can also reduce insurance costs. A number of North America's leading insurance companies offer drivers lower premiums if they install DriveSync and share the data.

"IMS is all about transforming your car from a dumb machine into a smart appliance," said Dr. Otmar Basir, founder and CEO of IMS during a presentation at the company's head office and software design centre. "DriveSync is a platform for greener, safer, more human-centric driving."

The speed of consumer acceptance of and demand for more and more internet-connected technologies surprises even some industry veterans. High tech has become a product differentiator in the fiercely competitive automotive marketplace.

"What makes a car different today is not the steel but the technology," said Bob Moran, CEO and founder of Weather Telematics, during an interview at the company's head office in Ottawa, Ontario. "Cars used to be about steel and rubber. Now, what matters is intelligence and connectivity."

Weather Telematics applies advanced meteorological science to real-world driving needs. It combines real-time data from a vehicle's sensors with up-to-the-minute weather-related information drawn from an array of internet-based sources to provide drivers with accurate intelligence about immediate road conditions.

This is not a '40% per cent chance of rain in your region' type forecast but information about the specific conditions the driver will face on that particular highway within the next mile or across a particular route programmed into the GPS system.

A hardware component designed by Weather Telematics

"This is hyper-local weather advice," Moran said. "We call it 'now-casting', not weather forecasting."

The overriding goal is to use these technologies to save lives and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

"Weather risks in transportation – rain, fog, snow – contribute to 10,000 deaths every year in the U.S. alone and traffic congestion wastes 2.9 billion gallons of gas annually," Moran said. "We provide drivers with a new kind of technology that can help them mitigate those safety risks and reduce fuel consumption."

The growing market for next-generation automotive technologies is drawing more companies into the industry. In Ontario, which is one of the few jurisdictions in the world with world-class clusters in both automotive production and information technology, nearly 100 companies are now involved in connected-car technologies.

And that's very good news. The number of vehicles on the road worldwide expected to double from 1 billion to 2 billion by 2035. Any technologies that can make our roads safer and reduce GHG emissions should be welcomed with open arms.

February 12, 2016

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