Openbay CEO: Diagnosis Software for Connected Cars Is a Big Market

Just as GPS navigation and power windows eventually became standard in vehicles, being connected to the Internet is the next automotive luxury upgrade that will become commonplace, according to Rob Infantino. He’s the CEO and founder of Openbay, an online marketplace for finding quotes on auto repairs.

Openbay, a Boston company backed by Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, announced a new product Tuesday called OpenbayConnect that depends on Internet connectivity to help users find auto service. Openbay’s original marketplace app lets users describe a problem their car is experiencing or a repair they want done, such as an alignment or brake replacement, and request bids from local auto shops for repairs.

The OpenbayConnect app interacts directly with a user’s connected car, and when the vehicle experiences a problem, the software gathers and analyzes data to find a diagnosis. Openbay’s program then contacts nearby mechanics with information about the problem, and those shops submit bids, as in the original app.

Infantino and I spoke about the new tool, and his goals for the company:

Xconomy: Why did you decide to create this diagnostic program?

Rob Infantino: We felt that we were missing a third audience [of users on Openbay]. First, there’s people who know exactly what to get repaired, such as brakes, tires, or a belt. They put in a service request and get offers to do that repair. That happens about 80 percent of the time. Bucket two is people who can articulate what the symptoms are: the check engine light is on, or the steering wheel vibrates when I tap the brakes. That happens about 20 percent of the time.

X: But there were other people who weren’t using your service?

RI: That’s people who put gas in the car and go. They don’t know anything about cars, how they operate, how to describe a problem. We don’t know how big that audience is, but it’s big. Through technology, we have the ability to remotely diagnose a vehicle. We can tell consumers, here are the issues we found with your vehicle, here are solutions to the problem, and here are service providers who are local to you who can help you get it.

X: So if a person is driving, OpenbayConnect can help them figure out how serious a problem is?

Rob Infantino

Rob Infantino

RI: If you’re driving down the road, and your check engine light comes on, you want to know if you should pull off the road because it’s safety related, or if you can keep driving for a week. Your car communicates with the cloud over a wireless connection, and sends diagnostic trouble codes to us. We take that data, diagnose it, and communicate that data to the providers near your vehicle. They respond with solutions and pricing information and when they can do the repair.

X: How does the car connect to the Internet?

RI: There’s an onboard diagnostic device we plug in that is cellular-based. It connects to a cell tower, and it handles the diagnostic information.

X: Do you charge for the service?

RI: No, it’s completely free.

X: Typically a mechanic would charge you for a diagnostic like this. But it’s free with your service. Are the mechanics doing it in hopes of getting the bid for the repair?

RI: Yeah. That’s actually a good point.

X: Do users have to pay for the device or data used?

RI: No, we’re giving the device away for free to select customers early on. We’re going to pay for the device, the activation fee, and … Next Page »

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David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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