By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Car Shield plans to introduce an advanced car-tracking device that can warn when users have left their headlights on, or when tire pressure is low.
The device, to be sold through national consumer electronics stores starting in June, plugs into the car's diagnostic (OBD II) port and wirelessly sends warnings and updates to the user's cellphone via email, text or phone call.
"We are the only one who sends out warnings," said Car Shield CEO David Lepejian. "We haven't seen anyone else creating that communication channel, so if you want to know if your husband left your gas tank empty, you can query it from your cellphone."
The device also allows remote "smog" testing, eliminating the need to visit a smog check station, as required in some states, said Lepejian.
It includes car tracking and 24/7 road side assistance via two call-in centers. If your teen takes the car, it alerts you if he is "braking too hard or accelerating too hard," in addition to the usual alerts for speed and geo-fencing (if the teen travels outside a proscribed area), said Lepejian. Users can track the location of the car via cellphone. They can also lock or unlock their doors remotely from anywhere within their cellphone service range.
The device is smaller than a cellphone, and it includes wireless GSM and a high-sensitivity GPS that is functional indoors, claimed Car Shield. It also has a Bluetooth interface to communicate with other devices including a cellphone and an FM transmitter to send messages via the car radio. The Car Shield icon-driven user interface for the phone can be downloaded from a Web site.
The device plugs into the diagnostic port that is on every car manufactured since 1996. The OBD II port is where car dealers plug in their computers to give consumers diagnostic readouts. While many consumer products can plug into this port, none can send wireless updates, said the company.
Under Car Shield's roadside-assistance plan, if an airbag deploys, Car Shield contacts the driver and calls emergency operators if needed.
Car Shield's call-in center includes 30 on-site mechanics who can tell a user when the "check engine light" comes on and if it requires immediate service or if it can wait, the company said.
The unit will carry a suggested retail of $299 with an annual service fee of $140/year. National dealers carrying the product have not yet been announced. Car Shield will also be sold to car dealerships starting in March.
When TWICE asked why this device will fare better than the numerous other car trackers on the market that have failed to gain wide acceptance, Lepejian said, "They are basically tracking devices but none provide service that people need on a daily basis. If you look at the statistics, these [tracker] sales are not picking up because only 1 percent of cars are stolen, and, of that, 75 percent are the joy-ride type. But we are offering battery-decay notification. Nothing like that exists. Even OnStar doesn't have it."
OnStar showed a prototype service that lets users query car diagnostics from a cellphone, but which does not issue user warnings. (See p. 98.)
Lepejian added, "Out of 60 million roadside assistance calls, 30 million are made to AAA and out of those, 12 million are actually dead batteries. Our statistics show 75 percent of them left their headlights on. A similar number applies to tire pressure. There are about 8 million calls made because of tire pressure. If you are warned in advance, you can get to a gas station and get it fixed."
Another company, Odyssey Broadband, is also hoping to offer remote diagnostics through the OBD II port via WiMAX. (See story below.)
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