Voyomotive Unveils a ‘Check Engine’ Light for the Rest of Us

The latest version of a wireless diagnostic device from startup Voyomotive can give car owners and aftermarket auto mechanics much more data about a vehicle’s condition than current systems do, according to the company.

Voyo with Scan Pro is designed for remote diagnosis of almost any problem with a vehicle, so owners won’t have to bring their car into a shop just to find out what it needs.

It has a list price of $100, with no subcription fees.

But the platform, which includes a small in-car device, a Voyo app, and a programming interface for third-party apps, could be a boon to insurance companies, roadside assistance providers and even autonomous vehicle developers.

All cars and light trucks sold in the US since 1996 have an on-board diagnostic port, called OBD-II, usually found under the dashboard. Voyomotive and other companies, such as Automatic, for years have been selling devices that plug into that port and have a wireless connection to access some engine data on a phone or across a cellular network.

So far, these devices have only been able to read generic codes, common to all vehicles, that are required for emissions testing, Voyomotive CEO Peter Yorke told The Connected Car. (They have also been limited to working with just one engine control unit, he said.) More than 90% of the diagnostic codes in most vehicles are additional ones developed by each car manufacturer just for its own models.

For Scan Pro, Voyomotive licensed those codes and made them available in its software. When a car owner plugs the Voyo with Scan Pro device into the OBD-II port, Voyomotive remotely reads the vehicle’s identification number and configures the firmware to work with that particular year and model, down to which hardware pins to use, Yorke said.

Scan Pro works on about 145 million vehicles, including ones from General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

The in-car device uses Bluetooth to connect to the driver’s smartphone. The Voyo app can notify the owner of problems and reveal the underlying issues, making vague warnings like a “check engine” light less mysterious. Owners can even stop warnings from going off if they find out that the problem, like low tire pressure, isn’t really happening. (If the problem is real, the warning will keep coming back, Yorke said.)

More importantly, all that diagnostic data can flow to the cloud via the owner’s smartphone. (Typically, it’s only about 20MB per month, Yorke said. Next year, Voyomotive will introduce a consumer OBD-II device with its own cellular radio.) This could mean getting roadside assistance without having to talk to an operator. As long as there’s a cellular signal, the user could use an app to request help, and the app would send enough information to determine whether the vehicle could be fixed on site or had to be towed.

Once auto service chains and independent garages can do comprehensive diagnostics over the air, it could save everyone time and money. Though the car will still have to go into the shop, the owner won’t have to go from garage to garage describing the problem and collecting guesses and estimates, Yorke said.

“It’s going to make the market for car service just like when you make a hotel reservation or a restaurant reservation. The price and terms can be set online,” he said.

The Voyo platform can also collect and share detailed trip and driving data, including lcoation, which can be useful to insurance companies and even developers trying to build smarter self-driving systems, Yorke said. There are tools for users to control what kinds of data leaves the vehicle, he said.

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