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November 17, 2014


The Internet of Anything: The Little Box That Hooks Your Old Car Up to the Internet

by Klint Finley
Detroit native Josh Siegel is a car guy.

He bought his first car, a 1955 Chevy 210, shortly before his 15th birthday. He liked it because he could tinker with it. After restoring this classic car, he moved on to more ambitious projects, tweaking the timing, swapping out the cams, and rejetting the carburetors. “It might take time or cost money,” he says, “but I could make the ’55 exactly what I wanted.”

But this wasn’t the case with his next car, a 2004 Chevy Impala. Though he wanted to tinker with it too—tune the engine or play with the automatic lock setting—he couldn’t. “Any sort of tweak,” he says, “required dealership diagnostics tools.”

It took him six years, but Siegel, an engineering student at MIT, now has a solution. It’s called Carduino, and it’s the first product from Siegel’s new company CarKnow.

This tiny device plugs into an automobile diagnostics port, letting you equip your car with all sorts of tools you otherwise couldn’t. You can set your windows to automatically roll up when the weather changes, tie your doors to a smartphone app that lets you lock your car from across the internet, or, well, dream up something no one else has ever thought of. The idea is that anyone can use the Carduino to build any app they like.

Traditionally, the car you bought was the car you bought. You couldn’t add parking assistance or blind-spot monitoring after the fact—unless you took it back to the dealership for an expensive upgrade. But the Carduino is part of a movement that aims to change that. As it stands, the connected car movement—driven by the big-name car makers as well as tech giants such as Apple and Google—is limited to newer, high-end vehicles. But with Carduino, Siegel wants to extend this kind of thing to a new audience, giving anyone the power to plug their car into the internet.

The Cost of a Smartwatch

It’s called Carduino because it’s meant to evoke the Arduino—a tiny open source circuit board that lets you build your own electronic gadgets. But Carduino is a more powerful machine—about as powerful as your smartphone. It’s set to arrive early next year, and Siegel says it will cost about as much as a smartwatch.

There are other tools that plug into your car’s diagnostic port, such as Automatic and Carvoyant, but for the most part, these just pull data from your car. They can tell your car’s fuel efficiency—or what a certain “check engine” light means. They even offer services that let developers build apps based on information pulled from you car, so that you can do things like automatically text your spouse when you leave the office. But Carduino goes further.