Starting in November, eco-enthusiasts can put down their organic lettuce wraps and pick up their smart phones to download a brand new application capable of tracking driving behavior through the use of your phones embedded GPS, and doing so almost completely independent of driver input. The Virtual Vehicle Company (VEVCo), developed at the University of California-Berkeley has become the first company that uses the latest smart phone innovations to unlock useful information about greener transportation. Berkeley, CA, one of the most politically liberal cities within the US, lays just 44 miles from rival Stanford and surrounding Silicon Valley making it the perfect setting for the union of technology and green transportation. Already the application has received widespread recognition, winning the University of California’s Big Ideas Competition and representing one of the 100 finalists who presented technologies at the California Cleantech Open conference on July 22nd.
Using only your phones GPS chip, the VEVCo application can tell when the driver has started driving, when they stop, how fast or slow they are traveling and use this information to compute their daily average range, common length of trips and other statistics. This information is then taken and transferred to the Virtual Test Drive Website where the driver can compare how a hybrid, electric, flex-fuel or diesel car would have performed on the routes traveled, helping a consumer to determine what green car, if any, best suits their needs. Co-founder of VEVCo, Laura Schewel acknowledges the difficulties associated with buying a new car and understands that consumers, “need help figuring out what’s best for them.” The new smart phone application facilitates the car buying process and makes it easy to see that green transportation represents a smart investment for many Americans.
Despite the consumer benefits associated with the new application, a number of inherent risks exist with the ability to track marketable information on individual driving behavior. Simple repackaging of that type of driving information could make the VEVCo application a valuable resource for a number of industries including, automakers, auto dealers, auto insurance companies and even advertisers or web firms. The idea of advertisers targeting consumers based on commute routes, or insurance companies restructuring rates based on driving habits leads us to question how “green” VEVCo’s intentions truly are. However on the flip-side of the argument driver data gathering can allow traffic control and tolling systems to streamline services resulting in an easier commute for everyone. No matter where you stand on the issue it seems to be an inevitable part of our future as Schewel expects the next generation of cars to connect with the Smartphone application directly.
When we overlook the overarching implications associated with invasive information gathering it becomes easy to see that the motives of VEVCo are in fact quite innocent. Laura Schewel and her organization simply want to educate those in the market for a new car on the potential benefits of investing in green vehicles. Come November if you don’t have an energy efficient vehicle, pick up your smart phone, download the new VEVCo application and discover the benefits of one. In the event that you don’t own a smart phone, then you’re stuck with the internet.
VEVCo's website and a Beta version of the application are currently available (here).