Using open data to power a predictive algorithm could allow a startup with Kitchener roots to access a market that is comprised of millions of potential clients: North America’s car owners.
Pitstop combines proprietary datasets with open data to fuel its predictive maintenance software that helps anticipate failure points in automobiles.
CEO and founder Shiva Bhardwaj explains that the combination of a device, plugged in the OPD2 port of any vehicle built since 1996, with an app loaded onto a smart phone, can put a virtual mechanic in the pocket of any vehicle owner.
“When we plug this device into the car and we start reading some of the datasets, this information allows us to gain understanding about what it actually means when that engine light goes on,” says Bhardwaj.
What really turned on the light for Pitstop was its participation in the 2016 cohort of ODX Ventures. Ventures is the startup support program for ODX, Canada’s Open Data Exchange, which is mandated to support the popular use and commercialization of open data.
The Waterloo-based ODX offers funding and mentorship for specific projects using open data.
For Pitstop, the ODX Ventures funding helped the company purchase access to the service recommendations and service history of 14 major car manufacturers — essentially 90 per cent of all the cars sold in North America since 1996.
Pitstop, with its offices in Kitchener, Toronto and Detroit, already sells its device to consumers, who are themselves a source of information on vehicular wear, maintenance and repair.
The Pitstop platform is constantly monitoring 200 sensors, looking for any anomalies on the powertrain, engine control system or emission system. A small problem now — say, a coolant leak — that could lead to a bigger problem later, results in an alert to the owner, highlighting the need for a service appointment. The platform can even be linked to a trusted service centre or dealership, so that the team there is aware there will be an upcoming visit.
The Pitstop app is free and can be used without the installed device: “It can work without the device, but it will be more of an estimate, based on your mileage, your driving,” says Bhardwaj. “Pitstop then compares this with these hundreds of different users and their maintenance requirements.”
But the device is more precise, and likely very soon, will be installed even before you purchase your next car.
“We deploy with a lot of dealerships,” says Bhardwaj. But Pitstop won’t stop there. Now that consumers and dealers are using Pitstop, “we’re actually moving further up the chain and partnering with some of the car manufacturers and suppliers. We’ll use their distribution channels to get to a high volume of users, which is when our value kicks in substantially. We move from tens of thousands of users to hundreds of thousands, or millions. That’s when we start to see the value of scale.”
Bhardwaj says that there are several major contracts in the U.S., and more coming. He expects the 15-member team to double by the end of the year to support the growth. Pitstop’s original financing was nearly $1 million, including the ODX Ventures funding. The company is working on a new, substantially larger round, to lift it to the next level.
And getting to that next level is due in large part to ODX Ventures.
“The ODX Ventures program focuses on the technology and that’s what differentiates KW from other regions,” says Bhardwaj.