Putting the Smartcar API in the hands of developers

Smartcar is a product for developers. Our platform inspires developers to build great applications with our API — everything from insurance tech apps to diagnostics apps for gearheads who want to know how their cars function. We founded Smartcar because we believed that the barriers to building apps for cars were unreasonably high. Messy car manufacturer software and expensive dongles excluded the developer community from truly taking part in the massive shifts affecting the automotive industry. Our mission has always been to lower those barriers and to make building apps for cars safe, speedy, and simple.

Communicating that to developers, though, is easier said than done. That’s why we were so glad to be presenting at the API World conference, where we would have an audience of folks ready and eager to learn more about APIs in the mobility space. What we struggled with was figuring out exactly how to convey the simplicity and potential of Smartcar in a single presentation. When we’re building our API, we try to focus on the developer experience. How quickly can a developer create an account, download one of our SDKs, and receive an access token? How easy is it for the end user to authenticate their vehicle with an application built on our platform?

We soon realized that talking about a great developer experience alone wouldn’t convince our audience. We had to show exactly why and how our product benefits our users. With that in mind, we decided to do a Smartcar live demo, taking our audience through the process of sending their first request to our API. While live demos can certainly be tricky, we truly believed that during the time we had on stage, we could show how easy it was to build an app for cars on the Smartcar platform. A live demo could show developers exactly how quickly they could build and run an app using our SDKs. As we planned our demo, we also became better test users of our own product: We became more critical of the developer flow and overhauled our dashboard design! Undaunted and buoyed by the possibility of really putting the Smartcar API out there, we couldn’t wait to perform the live demo on stage.

Nerves of steel

Getting a live demo together doesn’t just require nerves of steel (which we had to develop this past week), but a lot of advance planning. The organizers of API World kindly let us park a Tesla Model S right by the stage, so everything (from making sure the WiFi functioned perfectly to getting a Faraday bag for the car keys) had to fall into place! Our plan was to:

  1. create an account on www.smartcar.com,
  2. download our Node.js SDK and use it to build an app called “Hello, API World” with the “security” endpoint to unlock the doors and the “basic vehicle info” endpoint,
  3. run our app and connect the Tesla we had on stage to it,
  4. receive and copy down our access token, and use it to unlock the Tesla for the audience…

…all in under 10 minutes.

The key components of the Smartcar platform we wanted to highlight were security, speed, and simplicity. We focused on highlighting the three endpoints that developers could use to build their applications: odometer, location, and locking and unlocking vehicle doors. We chose to unlock the doors during the demo, because it would be the most exciting thing for the audience to see. We also chose to use our back end SDK to demonstrate how easy it was to get up and running on Smartcar.

Big grins

On stage, we gave a quick Smartcar pitch, discussing all of the different kinds of use cases that Smartcar makes possible, from on-demand car washing to fleet management. We then launched into our demo with Sanketh walking the audience through each of the steps involved in building the app, starting with getting our credentials from the developer dashboard. After Sanketh had finished writing the code, one could hear the collective sharp inhale as we made our request to unlock the car. In just a second, the Tesla headlights flashed and the doors unlocked, delighting the crowd. Check it out below!

Don’t miss Sanketh’s blinding grin and the quietly whispered “Yes!” from me.

Don’t miss Sanketh’s blinding grin and the quietly whispered “Yes!” from me.

The truth is, when planning for any live demo, the devil is always in the details, from having someone proofread your code, to having at least three back-up jokes in case something goes wrong. Our favorite: “My friend told me the range of this Tesla, and I was like ‘Watt?!’”

Did our live demo capture your imagination? Come to our Smartcar + Hackbright Hackathon next weekend and see what you can build!