Motolingo brings telematics to clunkers

Motoriety combines car diagnostics data with your smartphone's GPS to give you more data than you thought possible about how you use your car.

Motolingo's smartphone app can nag you when you SMS while moving, speed, or just drive aggressively. Rafe Needleman/CNET

Motolingo's Motoriety is a neat tool that marries the data your car is generating in real time with the power of a smartphone to bring some pretty modern capabilities to older cars. There's hardware, software, and a Web service involved in the product, but it looks like it should all work together well.

The hardware component is a small black box that you plug into your car's diagnostic port (all cars built after about 1996 have them). It communicates via Bluetooth to software on your smartphone and monitors things like road speed, engine performance, and the causes of check engine lights. If you drive too fast (based on your programming), or in a way that's not "green," (based on engine load over time), you can get an alert.

The program can also use the GPS capability of your smartphone to "geofence" your car, sending an alert if you leave a pre-programmed area.

The included software that comes with the $200 hardware will send tweets under certain conditions, such as when an engine light comes on or you exceed a certain speed. You'll want these tweets to go to a private Twitter account, of course--the last thing you want is your insurance company collecting a dossier made up of your speed warnings. More useful is the online service for the product (a subscription plan) that collects data from the diagnostic sensor and location info from the phone to give you an accurate record of how and where your car is used over time. It can also e-mail you alerts.

Motolingo can also record data about the phone itself--and alert you on the phone or on Twitter when you're sending text messages while driving. Just in case you need a reminder of how dangerous this can be.

Presumably if you have the sensor in your car it will record some data for you if someone else (like your child) drives it when your phone isn't there to gather the data, but the ideal case for nervous parents is to install this app on their kids' smartphones. In that case, it could be useful to keep a check on young drivers' behavior--that is, until they remove the sensor. But even if you don't want to watch how other people use your car, this looks like a very cool product for collecting information that can make you a better driver and keep you more in touch with what's going on under the hood of your ride.

The subscription version of the product gives you Web-based reports.

Motolingo needs background processing on a smartphone. It works now on Windows phones, and an Android app is coming. iPhone users won't get the service until there's multitasking on it.

 

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