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Shouldn't your Saab be able to social network? Boston's VroomGreen developing new device to make it so

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 28, 2011 08:32 AM

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resner-sm2.jpgOne of the cooler prototypes I've seen recently comes from a fledgling start-up called VroomGreen, which is so new it doesn't yet have a Web site. Developed by Ben Resner, the technical founder of Ambient Devices, the prototype device enables your car to start social networking.

Why would your wheels want to be on the Web?

First, a little about how the device works. It plugs into a data port called the OBD II, which enables mechanics to diagnose problems, and which exists in every car made since 1996. That connection, plus an on-board GPS chip, tells the device things like where the car has been driven, how fast, and how much gas you've used getting there. When you park in your garage or driveway at home, the device looks for your home wifi network and uploads the data to the Internet, where you can either use it for your own purposes, or share it with others via Facebook or Twitter. (Resner says he built the prototype device using ready-made components from Arduino, and he has a smaller and more polished version of it than the one pictured above.)

One use for the VroomGreen device might be keeping tabs on the trips you make for work, and compiling reports for reimbursement. (Smartphone apps exist to do this — if you can remember to click a button at the start and end of every trip.) It could also be used to help split gas costs between a group of colleagues who regularly carpool, or to calculate just how much it costs when you drive to Newbury Street, rather than hopping the T.

Within a household, too, parents might be able to reward kids for safe driving (not exceeding 65 miles per hour, or avoiding NASCAR-style starts when a red light turns green). Family members might even compete to see who can get the best gas mileage in a given car, or who drives the least.

With gas prices on the rise, Resner notes that "cost-effective driving and green driving are actually the same thing."

Resner also thinks VroomGreen drivers might want to share their cars' stats more widely. "You might be getting the best mileage of any 2009 Subaru Forester driver in Boston, or the country, and this would let you share that — sort of like being a FourSquare mayor," he says. (Resner says he doesn't like the idea of, say, hyper-competitive twenty-something male drivers using the device to see who can get from Boston to Killington the fastest on a snowy Saturday.)

Resner is currently working as a hardware consultant to several clients, but he says VroomGreen is more than just a side project; he's pretty sure it can evolve into a company. He plans to make about twenty of the devices within the next few months, and distribute them to beta testers locally. He says he believes the device can be sold for between $100 and $150, and might even be provided free by a company with whom you'd share the data. (Think Liberty Mutual or Allstate supplying it in exchange for the right to monitor your driving.)

One of Resner's slide presentations about VroomGreen is available on SlideShare. Resner says that while he has had a few preliminary conversations with prospective investors, he isn't in fundraising mode yet, but rather is looking to build a business team around the concept first.

"What other object are people so passionate about, aside from cars? Just think about all the love songs that have been written about cars," says Resner, who drives a 2001 Subaru Legacy. He also notes that most households spend more annually on gas than they do on electricity.

(I should note that the photo of Resner above is actually a composite of two iPhone photos, made to mitigate some classic iPhone blurriness issues.)

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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