We have apps that tell us where to drive, advise us what to see on the way and even help us to avoid obstacles, traffic and speed traps in route. But there really isn’t much in the way of apps that actually tell us how well we’re driving.
A new startup called ZenDrive is quantifying driver behavior using the sensors in our smartphones. Its ultimate aim is to create an app that actually improves the experience of driving and even boosts our skills behind the wheel – think the opposite of Dad in the passenger seat desperately clutching the dashboard while screaming at you to cut that turn more tightly.
Some key Valley investors think ZenDrive and its founding team Jonathan Matus and Pankaj Risbood, both Google veterans, are on to something. First Round Capital, Max Levchin, Jerry Yang, Tim Ferriss and other unnamed investors are funding the company’s $ 1.5 million seed round.
ZenDrive’s app isn’t available yet, though CEO Matus said it would launch in the iTunes store in the coming months and it might pursue other platforms in the future. The undelying principle of the service is to measure your driving, clocking your speed, acceleration and braking, as well as track common routes and frequent destinations. ZenDrive will the use that information to generate driver profiles, which the company plans to find multiple uses for.
The profiles will put real quantifiable data in the hands of drivers, which they can compare against the driving behaviors of other people in the same age group or city, people who drive the same make and model of vehicle and even people who drive the same route to work everyday, Matus said.
What can you do with that info? Matus said a teenager could present a positive report to his parents to bolster his argument he should be allowed to take the car out at night. ZenDrive can identify the most problematic routes on your daily commute and suggest alternate routes that could save you on time, gas or even stress. ZenDrive could even help you plan your day better, by suggesting the best times to make planned trips to avoid hassles along the way.
When proposed that ZenDrive was trying to create a “quantified driver” app, Matus said its ambitions were bigger, but he did give a tip of the hat to wearable gadget makers pioneering the quantified self movement.
“Those companies are really interesting because they show people can do useful stuff with all of that data,” Matus said. “They also show that people are really excited about this data – not the data itself but the insights it provides.”
ZenDrive isn’t the first to mine driver data. Insurance companies like Progressive have programs where customers can install vehicle monitoring devices in their cars – those that demonstrate safer driving practices get lower insurance rates. ZenDrive isn’t competing with those programs. In fact, Matus hopes for ZenDrive to one day provide the driving data to insurance companies so they can expand their safe-driving programs without the need for specialty hardware.
As for other revenue streams, Matus said there’s a lot of potential in using the data it collects to market driving products and services to its customers. “Imagine you’re Tesla, and you want to target certain types of drivers who drive certain types of cars with certain types of commutes,” Matus said. “We have all of that data.”
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