Tesla Model Y. Photo courtesy of EVANNEX, by Casey Murphy.

DIMO Founder Andy Chatham On Data-Driven Cars & More

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Tesla’s cars are just as much pieces of technology as they are vehicles, and the automaker’s ecosystem has begun to help consumers see the value of data in modern mobility. Recently, EVANNEX got the chance to speak with Andy Chatham, founder of the open-source connected car app DIMO, about what role data can play in the modern automotive landscape.

During the interview, Andy showed us around the DIMO app and talked about what benefits it offers to Tesla drivers and other car owners. We also talked about the state of autonomous driving, used cars, and vehicle customization, among other subjects.

You can see our full interview with Andy below.

EVANNEX: Describe for our readers what DIMO is exactly, and what it does.

Andy: We’re building what we think is the best connected vehicle app. It’s probably not the best for everything today, especially if your users are Tesla owners — they’re using a great connected vehicle app already, but most people who have cars are not. The other thing about these connected vehicle apps is they don’t work across cars. So we built a platform that’s behind this that allows you to onboard any car, [using] a hardware device.

Installing a DIMO device (Video: DIMO / YouTube).

Your customers, Tesla owners, are typically just logging into their Tesla account to start pulling data from the car. The way we think about it is we’re building a home on the internet for every car, so there’s apps and services you can plug in and use with your car. You can also customize it and make it look however you want. We’re adding the ability to upload photos of your vehicle, and then we’re starting to create very a data-driven relationship with the end user, and our goal is to allow them to save money over time.

You can get insurance through DIMO; we have financing products that are live today that you can use to re-finance your loan if you want; there are battery health score maintenance services; you can buy tires through DIMO partners; and it’s all very data-driven.

So instead of having to like go to an insurance company, you can go into DIMO and like type in your VIN number, and all of that is passed to them. It’s a much more seamless type of interaction that people are used to with digital services.

The lifecycle for a user at DIMO is you connect your car, we start building a digital twin of that car, and we actually pull a lot of data about from the existing marketplace about the VIN number, and we allow users to take ownership of that data. And then the whole business side of it and the developer platform that we’re kind of like re-launching in the next quarter is built on top of that. So there’s all different ways that can be expressed, but that’s kinda the high-level pitch for it.

This is the app here, and it gives you a garage with all your different vehicles in it.

You get an evaluation of your car, which users really like, especially when things are kind of in flux in the used car market and prices are kind of all over the place. We have the ability to pull in instant offers as well for the vehicle, so some of these cars you’ll actually get like a real offer to buy the vehicle from the different used car marketplaces out there. So this one gets CarMax and Carvana. This is something that we’ve launched in the last couple of months, and there’s going to be a bunch of other apps and services on top of it. Because this is a gas car, it also has a lead-acid battery so we can monitor that with our hardware device.

And there’s a digital glovebox for the vehicle as well that’s going to be much more incorporated into the apps and services on top of DIMO eventually, so you’ll be able to get data back from your insurance company like, ‘here’s your registration card; here’s your policy details,’ and all of that can be organized inside of your DIMO app.

EVANNEX: That’s super interesting. With Tesla, data and cars going hand-in-hand is such a new thing for a lot of people I think. So yeah, I find your product really fascinating.

Andy: Thank you. And we’re going to be making it a lot better. We have a lot of stuff that I’m pretty excited about sharing with people that we can’t quite share yet. But one thing for EVANNEX and the partnership we would have with them is that we’re going to have more ways for people to spend money in the app.

Today we sell a hardware device, but it’s not very obvious when you’re in our app here. Certainly because we have a lot of data about the cars themselves, and the owners have the ability to like transact on the platform, we want to be showing them accessories that they can buy for the car, and all that stuff.

EVANNEX: What do you see as some of the applications for autonomous driving or Full Self-Driving?

Andy: So I came from the mobility space broadly, but the last four years I was working specifically with companies in the autonomous vehicle world. My last job, I was running a fleet of about 400 employees that were working on the Waymo project. So I saw like very cutting-edge autonomous vehicle technology and how it was improving over time. The company I worked for was called TransDev and they’re a big mobility systems operator.

I was able to work with five or six companies from 2017-2020, and saw the first attempt at really like solving that problem fall short in a lot of ways. Waymo is still scaling a commercial service and trying to figure out the economics of autonomous driving.

But one of the bets we have with DIMO and something we think is gonna be true into the future is that it’s really not going to scale until there’s more infrastructure to support like regular operations of autonomous vehicles, and it’s a big “chicken and egg” problem. Because you can’t build a massive amount of infrastructure before you have the cars that can use it.

Waymo’s approach, and to a certain extent Tesla as well — although I’d argue that they’ve built quite a bit more infrastructure than anybody else because of the Supercharging network — you’re going to have to break these trips into chunks that you can do fully autonomously. But the beginning and end of the trip will be very very hard to automate at the long tail, and I think that that’s basically been proven out.

So there’s a vision of the future where large chunks of highway driving can be fully automated, and that’s not too far away. In fact, I think if there was a clearer regulatory framework for how to support something like that, and a company like Tesla was willing to take some minimal amount of risk on it, then that could be true for say, like L.A. to San Francisco — about 90 percent of that trip could be 100 percent automated, and far safer than human driving today.

Tesla has Superchargers at all the on-ramps and off-ramps, so if you’re in a car and it’s driving itself, and you say ‘Pull me over and just pull into like Supercharger slot 24.’ That will be pretty possible, and already is possible today.

Our CTO and I kind of go back and forth on this a lot, because he also worked in the AV space. He built dispatch systems for Argo AI and Ford’s connected vehicle product. We both connected actually initially on the feeling that trying to scale a robotaxi service without infrastructure to support it is kind of a dead-end, and it’s not going to work. [Laughs] That’s not going to stop people from spending billions of dollars trying to do it, but…

Connected cars getting smarter and better driving for certain chunks of the trip — and actually, initially Yev and I messed around with the idea of starting an automated parking company, kind of like Tesla did with smart summon. That type of autonomy is very achievable, it just requires infrastructure, and coordination with entities that are sort of like at the edge of the network.

So yeah, we have a lot of thoughts on it, and one of the ways we think about it at DIMO is we’re helping users collect and save their own data, and that really is only to the benefit of the end user. It’s very important for you to [be able to] do that. I saw a lot of situations in my previous job where the data from a connected car was immensely important because of an incident that happened on the road.

Tesla owners are certainly aware of that because they’re using a product that’s marketed as being a self-driving product. So people have thought about the liability and the implications of it. And one vision for the product that we have is basically that it’s kind of like a black box on the airplane. Boeing doesn’t build the black box and they can’t change what goes into it, but they built the plane, you know?

We’ve talked with a guy who builds a version of a DIMO device that’s like a hardware device you can plug into your Tesla and it pulls a lot more data. We thought about offering it, and I think eventually we might, but that allows you to get like really low-level data from the car, including all of the inputs and outputs to the self-driving system.

So yeah, we’re certainly interested in figuring out how to provide more transparency into the nature of self-driving systems, and it’s not a problem that we’re addressing directly today, but I’ll say that we’re very aware of it.

EVANNEX: That kind of speaks to this idea of DIMO being open-source and decentralized — I don’t know if you’d specifically use that term. But can you tell me a little bit about why you think it’s important for this platform to be open-source and have an emphasis on the consumer and their own data?

Andy: I would describe DIMO as being a progressively decentralizing thing. It’s certainly a lot more decentralized than any other connected vehicle platform today because all of them are very very centralized. Only recently did it become possible to build something like this, like there just wasn’t the tooling to be able to create it. If we wanted to turn DIMO on in Australia, somebody with a Tesla would be able to connect within five minutes. A lot of stuff needs to exist in order to enable that, and much of it was built in the last five years or so.

We borrow a lot from the crypto Web3 world. We use some of the technologies where we think that they provide benefits to users as far as openness and transparency, and interoperability is a really big one for us. None of that stuff existed even just three years ago, really as far as like tooling to make it work for a consumer product.

We think that there’s a lot of benefits to building something like DIMO in a very open and decentralized way, because a lot of the like value and intelligence exists at the edge of the network, not within some centralized company, if that makes sense. We have to support every country and every car. So sort of inherently, if you want to connect every car to the internet you have to have a pretty decentralized system because a lot of the data about those cars is stored in different places.

EVANNEX: I do think it’s very interesting how new a lot of these ideas are, and even ways of thinking about a car as a smart device.

Andy: Honestly, our approach and our take on that is that we don’t think that consumers should be told how connected their car is. Some people want a really connected, tricked-out Tesla-mobile, like probably most of your readers. But some people don’t, and we need to be able to support those people and offer them some level of service for what we’re building.

EVANNEX: It kind of seems to put the control back in the consumer’s hands, theoretically.

Andy: Yeah. If they’re going to spend $50,000 for a car, they should be able to say how it connects to the internet, is our approach, and what happens to the data from it. [Laughs] And I think that OEMs kind of know that too.

One thing I will say about Tesla is that they have a very open like, not open API, they don’t support it publicly, but there are lot of third-party apps for Tesla. We had a very easy time integrating with their system, so that Tesla owners could opt-in to collecting their own data and saving their own copies.

EVANNEX: Any questions you think I missed or any specific things you want to talk about that you think are important or relevant to Tesla drivers?

Andy: We definitely want to hear from people about what they like about their connected vehicle experiences. A lot of Tesla drivers use other third-party apps and just generally, I think they represent the most cutting-edge demographic in the car world by a long shot, as far as technology is concerned. But one of the areas in which I think the rest of the car world is actually ahead of Tesla is in customizing the vehicles and putting your own personality [into them.]

That’s something that was kind of exciting to us about EVANNEX and how they’re kind of bringing their own spin to the Tesla modding world. That’s kind of the coolest thing for me is about the partnership that we can have and what that will look like. I really want to make the like car configurator so you can see in your car all of the accessories and other things you can add to it. [Laughs]

We’re a pretty open bunch so you can put the Discord link in the post, and we have a pretty active Tesla channel in there.

You can follow and interact with DIMO on Discord here, or you can get started by downloading the app here.

Originally posted on EVANNEX  by Peter McGuthrie


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