July 30, 2020

What is Smartcar?

Charlotte Kosche

Sr. Content Writer

Smartcar is the first and only API platform for connected cars. Our technology allows developers to easily integrate their mobility apps and services with their customers’ vehicles.

But what does that mean? Which developers use Smartcar’s technology? What is an API? And what is a connected car?

Let's take a step back and explain what exactly we do here at Smartcar.

The API platform for connected cars

In short, the Smartcar platform is a set of APIs that allow mobility applications and connected cars to communicate with each other.

What is an API?

An API (Application Programming Interface) is a set of computer programs that allows two software applications to talk to each other. For example, when searching for “Weather New York” on Google, the search results will display a snippet with New York’s weather forecast.

However, Google doesn’t collect any weather data.

Instead, when someone searches for “Weather New York,” Google makes an API request to an API that the weather forecasting business The Weather Company provides. The API fetches the latest forecast for New York from the Weather Company’s server and sends this information back to Google. The Weather Company’s API acts as an intermediary between the Weather Company and Google, so that the two can talk to each other.

What does the Smartcar API do?

In Smartcar’s case, our car API is an intermediary that allows software applications and vehicles to talk to each other. For example, the insurance company Just Insurance charges car owners based on their mileage and driving behavior. When Just Insurance wants to know a customer’s mileage, the Just Insurance app sends a request to the Smartcar API. The Smartcar API then retrieves the mileage directly from the customer’s vehicle and sends this information back to the Just Insurance app.

📱 Building apps for cars: A beginner's guide to car APIs

What does a car API look like in action? Why should you connect to cars with an API instead of OBD dongles or smartphone telematics?

More importantly, is a car API platform the right choice for you?

👉 Learn from real examples of apps built with car APIs

The API platform for connected cars

When retrieving connected car data like mileage, the Smartcar API acts as an intermediary between apps like Just Insurance and their customers’ cars. But how does Smartcar read a vehicle’s mileage?

It does this via the car’s embedded cellular modem.

What is a connected car?

A connected car is a car with built-in internet connectivity. It can connect to the internet thanks to an embedded cellular modem—a small piece of hardware that equips the car with 3G, 4G, or 5G internet access.

Today, 80% of all cars sold in the U.S. are connected.

If your car is connected, your car brand offers you access to their connected services app. A connected services app is a mobile app that allows you to locate and unlock your vehicle from your phone, preheat the battery, and more. Each car brand offers their own connected services app. For example, Ford’s app is called FordPass, Chevrolet’s is called myChevrolet, and Jeep’s is called Uconnect.

Even if you don’t have your car brand’s app on your phone, your vehicle might still be connected. Check your car brand’s website or call them to ask whether your car is eligible for a connected services account.

How does Smartcar communicate with connected cars?

Smartcar is able to communicate with connected cars because of embedded cellular modems that provide cars with internet connectivity. But before the Smartcar API can ask a car’s cellular modem for its mileage, a few other things need to happen first:

1. A customer links their car to an app

Sticking with our example, Just Insurance prompts a customer to start tracking their mileage (left). The customer enters Smartcar Connect—a Smartcar-provided flow that lets them link their car to the Just Insurance app in just 30 seconds (middle). The customer then logs in with their car brand’s connected services account (right).

2. The customer agrees to share their car’s information

The next step allows the customer to review exactly which information they are about to share with the Just Insurance app (left). In this case, Just Insurance is requesting access to the vehicle’s make, model, year, VIN, odometer reading, and location. Once the customer presses “Allow,” their car is successfully linked to the Just Insurance app (right).

3. The app requests the car’s mileage

Now that the customer has linked their vehicle, Just Insurance can send an API request to Smartcar and ask for the car’s mileage. Here’s what this API request looks like:

When the Smartcar API receives this request, it asks the vehicle’s embedded modem for its odometer reading. It then takes the response—17,694.82 miles in this case—and sends it back to the Just Insurance app.

Who are Smartcar’s customers, and how do they use the platform?

So far, we’ve stuck with only one example of a business that uses Smartcar in their mobility application. But there are many more developers and businesses that use Smartcar in their mobility apps and services.

  • Auto insurance companies like Just Insurance verify their customers’ mileage.
  • Road usage charge companies like Aventi charge vehicle owners a per-mile fee as a replacement for the gas tax.
  • Peer-to-peer car sharing businesses like Turo let vehicle owners share a digital car key with renters for instant, contactless rentals.
  • Electric vehicle charging companies like Recharge let electric vehicle owners monitor their car’s battery level and estimated charging time.
  • Energy and utility companies like Rolling Energy Resources allow electricity consumers to manage and charge their electric vehicles right from their phones.
  • Fleet management software companies like Azuga allow fleet managers to see the location, mileage, tire pressure, and fuel tank level of all vehicles in their fleet.
  • On-demand car wash companies like Spiffy let vehicle owners share a digital car key with service technicians for interior detailing.
  • In-car delivery companies allow vehicle owners to get groceries, packages, and even their dry cleaning delivered directly into their cars.

This is how the Smartcar platform allows mobility applications to easily integrate with their customers’ cars. By offering a set of standardized APIs and a friendly user consent flow, Smartcar makes it easy for developers to connect to their customers’ vehicles and to focus on what’s most important: building incredible mobility apps and services.

If you have questions or would like to see a Smartcar demo, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We'd love to hear from you!

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