Enabling ‘Avacar’ Virtual Vehicles

Carknow license plateEnabling ‘Avacar’ Virtual Vehicles and a Universal Automotive API

Contestant: Josh Siegel
Affiliation: CarKnow LLC
Contact Information: info@carknow.me

Press: Wired.com November 2014


CarKnow’s open-source CARduino device uses GSM to digitally duplicate a vehicle in the Cloud, mirroring all measurable parameters from On-Board Diagnostics, GPS and accelerometer devices, and proprietary CAN networks, while also providing low-level access for real-time output control. Our RESTful API uses human-readable commands for easy, brand-agnostic data capture and transmission through the use of a novel manufacturer-aware interpreter. Data are stored in an interoperable JSON format, easing cross-platform development and reducing time to market for vehicle applications ranging from prognostics to automation.

How does “Enabling ‘Avacar’ Virtual Vehicles” use Internet Technology?

CarKnow’s products and services rely on Internet Technology at all stages of data transmission, visualization, and analytics. The CARduino device uses TCP/IP to connect to a Cloud server, which enables us to easily send data to, or pull data from, the vehicle. This TCP connection can use SSL for encryption while the modem uses a whitelist of approved addresses to ensure security of data in transit. Once on the server, Avacars are interacted with via a RESTful API returning JSON data and accepting HTTP POST requests, allowing the development of applications using vehicle data that runs on any web-enabled end use device. The use of JSON provides easily interoperable data for use with other applications and services, while a Cloud-based parser enables a single application to work across numerous makes and models of vehicles.


Why did you choose to invent your prototype? What problem do you see that it can solve?

‘Avacars’, and the tools enabling their creation and interaction, resulted out of necessity. While old cars can be repaired or modified with simple hand tools, modern vehicles are computer controlled and require appropriate diagnostic and repair software applications. The set of On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) standards implemented in newer vehicles provides a window into a small range of emissions parameters, but these types of data are limited in scope and is accessible only when in local proximity with the vehicle. Tapping into extraneous data sources and adding cellular connectivity, our CARduino device and Cloud platform facilitate the development of applications that allow users to diagnose, repair, and modify their vehicles – the digital equivalent of a socket wrench for modern hotrodders.

What is the practical application of your invention for the everyday user?

The creation of Avacar virtual vehicles from OBD information, integral motion and location sensors, and reverse-engineered proprietary information allows vehicle owners and operators to use the data flowing through their vehicle to build applications that improve efficiency (fuel economy and traffic), reliability (prognostics and diagnostics), and comfort (location- and weather-aware applications capable of adjusting settings). The ability to control vehicle actuators also allows for the development of cellular remote-control applications for everything from radio channels to door locks.

Are there plans to produce your prototype for the marketplace, or is it already a product that can be purchased/obtained?

The CARduino device has been through eight hardware revisions and over 150 devices have been produced. A small-scale trial with the hardware is ongoing, and CarKnow plans to sell the devices as part of a Kickstarter campaign in the near future (information about which will be released on the company website, www.carknow.me). Once the CARduino has been validated, the intent is to release the hardware and embedded software as open source – so long as releasing the code does not compromise device or platform security. The API will open immediately to developers after hardware preorders begin.

CarKnow's Josh Siegel

CarKnow’s Josh Siegel

Why would you consider “Enabling ‘Avacar’ Virtual Vehicles” to be “innovative”?

CarKnow has a number of differentiators when compared with current diagnostic tools. Most basic vehicle interface devices allow access of On-Board Diagnostic data and keep the data local to the device or release it to a second device over Bluetooth. However, CarKnow uses a straight-to-Cloud capture technique that minimizes the risk of man-in-the-middle interception and eliminates user reliance. CarKnow provides an entire application platform, whereas existing companies provide single applications or small suites. The biggest innovation Avacars provide is the use of a Cloud-based API to abstract vehicle type from application development, allowing programmers to write an application once and deploy it across all vehicle types. Additionally, the relationship of CarKnow to the CloudThink academic project means that CarKnow uses an open standard for data transmission and communication, privacy visualizations and opt-in controls, and a common, interoperable data storage format instead of the siloed databases that telematics companies use today.

What would you like to see in the future for the Internet of Things? Why should more companies utilize IP?

The Internet of Things is a new frontier. I believe that the biggest innovations result when devices, users, and companies are allowed the free and easy exchange of data. A set of open standards and a standardization body encompassing the whole Internet of Things would allow devices, platforms, and applications to interact and unlock value. Such an organization could guide developers toward the use of open APIs, portable data, and interoperable information, while addressing the pressing need for universal device registration, identification, and enumeration.

The use of the IP stack built into our modem has sped up development by providing black-box functionality that works right from the start. The ubiquity of IP lowers barriers to entry for new technology players, and reduces duplicated effort in developing proprietary protocols. That leaves more time for developers to innovate.

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