SmartDrive: Exploring the future of the car through big data



See the original article in Japanese

SmartDrive, a Japanese startup developing automobile hardware and providing big-data analytics, announced on February 18th that it has allocated shares to ANRI, with the fundraising amount expected to be in somewhere in the tens of millions yen (or a few hundreds thousands dollars). According to the CEO Retsu Kitagawa, the startup will strengthen its developer team (with iOS engineers in particular) with these funds.

I confess, it’s actually a little difficult to write about this company as they are currently in stealth mode. Most information about the product is not disclosed. But I can’t help but get excited about what I’ve learned so far.

SmartDrive can be said to be a player in the ‘Internet of Things’ space. When thinking about that sector, two things come to mind: big data and context. I’d like to convey SmartDrive’s vision by focusing on these two.

Big data in transportation

SmartDrive’s product is a hybrid system that makes use of both iOS and a terminal device in a car. Various data acquired through the terminal (such as the car’s speed and direction) are designed to be shown in the iOS app, in part to help to make fuel consumption more efficient. Kitagawa described the product as a sort of upgraded Tesla Motors Dashboard. We’ll see how it looks when it’s release.

Reference: Tesla Mortors

When speaking of big data these days, Nest comes to mind, having been recently acquired by Google for $3 billion. What Google wants from that acquisition is obviously not just a thermostat, but also the data produced by individual households. Analyzing that data will help the company understand the overall picture of heating systems. The same sort of idea could be applied to the big data produced by cars.

The CEO Kitagawa is just 24 years old. After he interned at a startup in Japan he left for the USA. He took some lectures at MIT, and a year later, he went to Tokyo University to study science.

I had an interest in consumer electronics, biotech, and transportation. I decided to focus on the latter, and I came up with the idea for this business while studying at university. I adjusted my research plan to be more business oriented.

The context of the big data

SmartDrive’s terminal device is basically just a tool to acquire data. Kitagawa told us that he wants to make cars fully connected to the internet before Google takes over the connected-car market. The important thing, of course, is what they create with the data. Data itself doesn’t have value, but it needs a certain context to be utilized.

One interesting way to use the data would be to use it to address problems in transportation, such as traffic jams. The product can recognize location without GPS by using the other real-time data such as sudden the braking, direction, and rotation of the car. Through this new approach, which differs from existing vehicle information and communications system in Japan, SmartDrive hopes it can stand out. Kitagawa says it might even be possible to make suggestion about insurance services based on the data.

Kitagawa says that in the future, all car windows will be digital monitors, and cars will be sort of like smartphones. There will be thousands of ways to make use of such an interface.

Although the details about SmartDrive are currently secret, Kitagawa told us that he wants to release his product as early as this year.

The business for hardware startups is a lot more difficult than that of web startups because of the challenges involved in mass production. But yet, I think SmartDrive has the potential to show a whole new world to us.

We’ll have more details on this as we learn more.