Zubie Deal with automaker hints at potential of connect-car tech

Mount Pleasant-based Zubie is selling some of the data its plug-in devices collects to an undisclosed car manufacturer. Provided/File

Zubie has a new customer, one the company says points to the big-picture potential of its business of connecting cars to the internet.

The Mount Pleasant-based technology firm says it’s selling some of the data it collects from its users to a car manufacturer, part of an effort to show automakers how their vehicles are working in the real world.

Zubie declined to identify the company, which it calls a “top tier global auto manufacturer,” but it said Wednesday it’s in talks with others.

Acting CEO Prag Shah said the deal was mostly meant to give the manufacturer a chance to see how it might use Zubie’s data as the startup grows and adds users. The Zubie Key plugs into car engines and records information about how motorists drive, where they go and whether their cars have maintenance issues.

It’s mostly been picked up by insurance companies that want to know how their policyholders drive and businesses that want to keep an eye on vehicles in their fleet. But that’s given Zubie a cache of data with plenty of other uses.

Take the automaker deal for example: Companies that make cars, parts and things like motor oil don’t usually know how their products are doing in the real world. Getting real-time data on how cars are driven — their mileage, revolutions per minute and speed — combined with information about weather and traffic could help shape how future cars are designed and maintained.

“We’re in the early days,” Shah said. “For the whole industry, it’s a sign of times to come.”

Still, that potential comes with a new set of challenges for Zubie: It could draw privacy concerns among drivers, and it raises questions about which clients should pay what for access to the data.

Shah said the aggregated data won’t include private information about drivers, and if a contract the company worked out with a customer doesn’t allow sharing, it won’t include that information.

Charleston’s technology sector isn’t all about cars, though. Instead, many in the industry would rather see more bikes around town.

Executives at more than 20 companies and organizations connected to the tech industry have signed an open letter calling for a bike lane across the Ashley River.

Making it easier to commute by bike, they argue, would position Charleston as a more progressive city, and it might help tech companies lure talent to the area — a key consideration as the industry faces a “talent gap” between the number of job openings and the number of trained workers available to fill them.

The letter comes as Charleston’s City Council plans to vote this month on a proposed bike lane on the Legare Bridge.

“Having the ability to NOT drive a car everyday is vital to our industry as a whole,” the letter says. “As part of a broader generational shift away from auto-dependent commuting, talented tech employees expect to be able to safely commute by bike, rely on public transportation, or summon a cab with the tap of a smartphone.”

City Council’s vote on the issue is sechuled for July 19 at the Gaillard Center.

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703 or on Twitter @thadmoore.