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The race to connect old cars to the Internet

Lauren Silverman Jul 9, 2015
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Vinli founder Mark Haidar reaches below the steering wheel of a 2007 Toyota Camry – right into the brain of the car – and plugs in a small black device that’s like an extra-large memory stick.

The device will live there, in the rectangular connector known as the OBD port. Any car built after 1996 is equipped with an OBD port, and it’s become hot real estate for tech companies trying to revolutionize the driving experience. Vinli, which starts at $99.00, turns your car into smartphone of sorts – where there’s an app store for your car, and an internet connection.

“It has a GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspot, with LTE connectivity, an accelerometer,” Haidar says.   

Vinli’s CEO Mark Haidar in a 2007 Camry.

Vinli’s CEO Mark Haidar in a 2007 Camry.

So, if you’re on a road trip, maybe in a 1996 Honda Civic, and your kid wants to watch cartoons on a laptop, no problem.

“It makes the driver experience and backseat experience much better,” he says.

Connecting to Netflix from the backseat is nice, but it isn’t the breakthrough technology that helped Vinli raise $6.5 million from companies like Samsung and Cox Automotive this summer. That was for connecting your car to your phone, your home computer and the people around you. Through Vinli’s app store you can download apps to monitor your car’s health, improve fuel efficiency, and even track your teenager — like one app called Beagle, which lets parents watch the car in real time and even create alerts for speeding. 

The app e-Call alerts family or friends if you get into an accident. Another app, MileIQ, automatically logs your drives and calculates their value for easy reimbursement. 

Once you tap into your car’s brain and connect it to the world outside, the opportunities are endless — which is why more cars today are being built connected, no device necessary.

“Almost any new car you buy today will have some sort of telematics service that they’ll offer with it,” says Wayne Cunningham, who covers car technology for CNET“The relevance of these devices is going to diminish over the next few years. In five years, I can imagine they’d be completely superfluous unless you have an older car that’s not connected.”

Which is why Haider is working on deals with automakers to get Vinli inside cars before they’re driven off the lot. And, he’s hoping to capitalize on interest in something called vehicle-to-vehicle communication, sometimes called V2V.

“The idea is that every car can communicate to other cars on the road,” Cunningham says. “So your car will know before you do that the car ahead of you is braking, or if you come around the corner and there’s a car stalled in the road that car will have already sent a signal to your car and give you some advance notice.”

V2V, could be mandated by the government in the next few years. Then, there’d be even more demand for giving old cars new life, and new brains.

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