ZoomCar Is Betting on IoT to Make It the Airbnb of Cars

ZoomCar Is Betting on IoT to Make It the Airbnb of Cars
  • ZoomCar's ZAP will let you hire out your car when it's idle
  • IoT devices will track the car's health so you don't worry about it
  • ZoomCar is hoping to have 20,000 cars by 2017-end

ZoomCar, which raised $24 million (approximately Rs. 160 crore) in Series B funding this August, has been slowly growing in the self-drive car market in India. That in India of course means cars you rent and drive yourself, not cars that drive themselves. ZoomCar's model might not be as cool as self-driving cars, but it actually shares an idea with Tesla founder Elon Musk - ZoomCar is betting big on its ZAP program, where people can rent out their cars to be a part of ZoomCar's fleet when the car is not in use, so your car can earn money for you.

ZAP has been under trial at ZoomCar for a while now, and a full-scale rollout is supposed to take place this December. But managing this inventory provides some unique challenges, and Gadgets 360 sat down with Rajesh Bysani, ZoomCar's new Chief Product Officer, to talk about how the company is going to accomplish this.

Bysani joined ZoomCar just about a month ago; before this, he was working as AVP Product and Growth at FreeCharge, and he's also worked at RedBus and BookMyShow. He tells us that he was on the verge of starting his own company when ZoomCar loomed on his horizon, and the opportunity to work with a company that deals with physical products for a change was hugely appealing.

"I was trying to figure out what to do next and thinking of starting up, but then ZoomCar came along and it's a big change because you have these physical products that are so important," he explains. "And we're using a lot of sensors and connected devices to improve the system, so it's really got a lot going on."

"IoT is a very important part of the picture," adds Bysani. "It can be used to improve efficiency in so many ways. Just one example of the top of my head is that it can improve servicing efficiency. We can tell through our dashboard why a car needs to be serviced, what all work was done on it, was the ignition switched on, did the service station drive the car?"

You can track most aspects of a car using different sensors, all of which can be connected to the Internet today. Cars themselves pack a lot of computing power, which can be used for anything such managing the brakes, the locks, even computing the amount of air it needs to allow into the fuel injection.

"We can also track consumer behaviour to track your driving for better safety," says Bysani. "Better drivers are safer drivers, and the fewer accidents people have the better obviously, plus an accident takes our car off the road," he adds with a laugh. To accomplish this, ZoomCar measures things such as the use of the clutch - "a very important indicator of good driving" - the distance the car leaves to the vehicles in front and behind, and hard braking. "One thing we're looking at now is to communicate this to the customer who is driving - maybe we can fit little lights in the car or give audio feedback, we're figuring that part out," he says.

These changes aren't just important for promoting safer driving and helping keep ZoomCar's fleet in a good condition though. It's a big part of ZAP, which is arguably ZoomCar's most important program right now. The company has nearly 2,000 cars right now; up from the 1,500 it had in 2015. Back then, the goal was to add 7,000 cars; the plan now is to grow to 20,000 cars by the end of 2017. The only way this kind of growth is going to be possible is if ZAP takes off.

And this means convincing people that their cars are safe when rented out using ZoomCar. Right now, the pitch boils around saving you money. ZoomCar claims that if you lease the vehicle out to it, then you can bring your EMIs down hugely. But if you're worried that people will wear out the clutch, get dents and scrapes, and otherwise spoil the car, then the offer starts to seem less tempting.

"When the owner is driving it, we won't check the location, for privacy reasons, though we'll have to continue checking things like clutch use and the health of different car parts so that we can ensure that the car gets its servicing in a timely manner," he adds.

Bysani's bet is that if the cars are all outfitted with IoT devices that can report the car's health to the owner, they will be more likely to actually rent the car out. "We're using a mix of off-the-shelf products and some custom-made solutions, and we're tracking a wide range of inputs. This will help us to track revenue leakages, while also making it more appealing for people to sign up for ZAP," he says. "The idea is that once enough people sign up, you'll be able to load the app and see cars all around you and you can just walk to the nearest one to pick it up, like you would an Ola or Uber."

"Meanwhile, the owner of the car will also have an app, where they can see a dashboard," he explains, showing us the dashboard. "This shows things like the overall health, gives you the tools to set up your car for hire, you tell us where the pickup is, you tell us how long you can give the car for, you have full control too, it's a fully automated system."

This means that things such as checking that the keys are left in the ignition when you want to lease the car out, happens automatically. Other devices give ZoomCar the ability to flash the lights so that you can find the car inside a parking lot; Bluetooth-based keyless entry mechanisms are already in place which use time based security codes to ensure that only the right person gets into your car.

"We want this to become a hyperlocal product like the other services, like the Airbnb of cars, and for that the consumer experience is very important, everything must be smooth and automated, you shouldn't have to talk to someone at all," he adds.


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