May 22, 2006
It's always a traumatic experience to hand your car keys to your teenager and wonder whether he or she will drive safely and not take off on an excursion to another city. Now there's no need to wonder. A Solana Beach company, DriveOK (www.driveok.com), has developed a device that you can install in your car that lets you keep tabs on the vehicle. This device can be used to find the car's location from any computer, as well as receive an alert when the car exceeds a certain speed or travels beyond a preset distance.
Mark Wells, CEO, president and co-founder of DriveOK, was aware of other companies offering tracking systems, but they were designed primarily for fleets of trucks and commercial applications and were expensive -- about $1,000 just for the equipment. Wells, a veteran of the cellular and wireless industry, saw a need for a product that was simple to use and affordable, particularly for families with young drivers. It needed to be cost effective and to be able to be installed by the user. Based on my hands-on testing, he's succeeded in these goals. DriveOK's device consists of two items: a small plastic box that contains a digital wireless cellular transceiver with an internal antenna and backup battery, and a tiny module smaller than a matchbox containing a GPS receiver and antenna. The GPS module is installed under the trim strip to the left of the windshield, and the transceiver is strapped under the dashboard. It plugs into the standard diagnostic plug under the dash. The cost of all the hardware is $195, and there's a monthly monitoring fee, typically $10 to $20. Wells installed the device on my wife's car, with her permission of course, in 10 minutes. I registered online and set up my preferences.
I selected a maximum speed, the boundary and alert preferences. I chose to be notified when the car exceeded 70 mph and when the car crossed a boundary 30 miles from home. I selected that I be notified with a message on my cell phone, but I could have chosen to receive an e-mail. Later in the day I got a text message on my cell phone reporting the car going 73 mph. (Don't tell the highway patrol!) I went online and checked the car's location a while later, and in 15 seconds saw it was pinpointed on a Google map at Nordstrom's. (No surprise there). The cost of the monitoring service is dependent on the number of alerts you receive and how often you request (ping) the vehicle's location. A combination of 20 alerts and pings cost $15 per month, or $125 per year prepaid. One hundred per month costs $252 per year prepaid. Additional alerts or pings are 25 cents each. One of the benefits of this system is that it's proactive, so there's nothing you need to do to monitor the speed and boundary. It's a case of no news is good news.
What about privacy? Wells explained that parents have a responsibility to ensure their kids are safe, much like monitoring their online activities, and that supersedes all. In the event of a serious accident, insurance companies don't cover the person at fault, so there's also a financial reason to ensure safe driving, as well. What about disclosure? He advises parents to inform their kids that the car has the device on it. After all, you want to inhibit speeding before the act rather than catching it after the fact. While they may object, knowing that the device is installed also gives a teenager an excuse if friends urge them to speed or take an excursion. In several cases, parents have reported that other parents want their kids to drive in the monitored car, knowing they will be safer. And should the system be disconnected, it will automatically send an alert using its backup battery. The company has experienced very little churn, or loss of customers, just a couple of percent per year. Why? Wells attributes this to the benefits of the service and peace of mind his customers get from having the information at their fingertips at all times. And once you have it, it's difficult to give it up. DriveOK has 15 employees, is self-funded and employee-owned.
How's business? The company is profitable. Currently production is limited and expanding to Sorrento Valley, increasing capacity to 200,000 units a year. DriveOk lets us answer the age-old question, do you know where your kids are, and is likely saving lives at the same time.
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