LoJack system will allow parents, auto makers and insurance companies to track vehicles

Insurance companies, auto makers will also have tracking capabilities

By , Computerworld |  Mobile & Wireless, car tech, privacy

LoJack, whose technology has for years allowed law enforcement to track down stolen vehicles, plans to release a device for parents and others to track family vehicles.

The devices will not only collect data about vehicle locations, but also about how well someone is driving. It would also be able to restrict talking or texting on a smartphone while a vehicle is in operation.

The company plans to offer telematics devices with the ability to wirelessly monitor vehicles for driving habits and auto performance to insurance companies and auto makers.

"Insurance companies want to collect that data for their actuarials," said Emad Isaac, chief technology officer for LoJack. "So instead of static information, such as your age, where you live, where you're driving and your past record, they... use your driving behavior as a predictor. So [the insurance company] will pay you in the form of a discount to collect that information."

Through a partnership with TomTom navigation systems, LoJack already provides commercials fleets with the ability to track service trucks. LoJack's Fleet Management Service is a GPS-based advanced telematics system that can track fleets with as many as 5,000 vehicles. The tracking system allows companies to monitor how safely their drivers are operating vehicles.

"We want to do the same thing for the safety of drivers for consumers," Isaac said. "In 2014, we'll have a series of products with a vast array of formats."

The new devices, which will ship sometime next year, will be tailored for different markets. Some devices may be dongles that can plug into a vehicle's On-Board Diagnostic (OBD II) System port, while others will be factory or dealership-installed telematics system that could not be easily removed by consumers.

For example, an auto maker could install a telematics tracking device in the factory that would monitor equipment such as fuel injectors, electrical or vehicle diagnostics. The device would report back on whether there are mechanical issues over the life of a car.

"They could be monitoring them proactively to handle maintenance or warranty issues," Isaac said. "If incidents of system failures are creeping up, they can recall the vehicles and make modifications to the product line. In that case, they're not using data about you and you're position, it's being used for the purposes of improving the product."

The collection of vehicle data has already sparked pushback by legislators.

In June, congressional lawmakers filed bipartisan legislation to give car owners control over data collected in black box-style recorders that may be required in all cars as soon as next year.

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a new standard that would require all light passenger vehicles (weighing 8,500 lbs or less) and motorcycles built on or after Sept. 1, 2014, to have event data recorders (EDRs). The recorders, while similar in function to black boxes in airplanes, record far less information.

But Isaac said LoJack's systems would likely be voluntarily activated by vehicle owners. For example, if the vehicle owners agree to it, insurance companies could monitor driving habits and offer rate reductions based on good records.

Progressive Insurance offers a similar service today with its SnapShot monitoring device. Drivers can plug the dongle into their vehicle's OBD II port and it wirelessly transmits information such as how often the driver makes hard brakes, how many miles the car is driven each day and how often the vehicle is driven between midnight and 4 a.m.

For the consumer, a LoJack telematics device will be able to not only monitor where family vehicles are located and track driving behavior, but notifications could be sent showing when vehicles travel out of pre-set bounds. Parents, through a Bluetooth connection in the vehicle, could restrict their teenage drivers from texting or talking on their smartphones while driving, according to Isaac.

"For us the connected car is about introducing technology to support safe driving. We want to be able to deploy this type of technology to the family fleet -- the family fleet being your loved ones," Issac said. "Who's driving, what they're doing, how they're performing, where they're going, if there are any incidents, what their behavior is."

Data from a vehicle telematics tracking device would be stored in a cloud system owned and managed by LoJack, which would also be responsible for authorizing data access.

Consumers, for example, could log in to the cloud and set up vehicle parameters. An owner could set up "geo fences" or boundaries in which vehicles are meant to remain. Alerts would be sent if vehicles venture outside those boundaries.

Isaac admitted there are likely to be concerns around privacy with in-vehicle data collection devices, but he said LoJack is not going to be in the business of mining data or selling data to third parties.

"There's always going to be an issue with who's looking at my data and should I have privacy concerns," he said. "We're purely looking at this as your data and using that information for the safety, security and protection of your loved ones."

"Whoever owns the product and the property should own the data," he added. "If it's a manufacturer, they're going to want to own the data."

This article, LoJack system will allow parents, automakers and insurance companies to track vehicles, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

Read more about personal technology in Computerworld's Personal Technology Topic Center.

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