How to track your mileage automatically with Car Footprints

For the past year I’ve been working on tracking the miles driven by a car. There are several use cases for this:

  • Someone might be required by their employer to keep a mileage log for auditing purposes or any other reason
  • Tracking mileage actually can lead to thousands of dollars in tax savings at the end of the fiscal year

I’ve been working, along with the rest of the Car Footprints team, in creating an easy to use, automatic solution for these problems. Everything started with Ney Torres’ (CFP CEO) idea. The premise was simple but the problem was not. How could we get this idea to work? We looked at current solutions for this problem and none of them seem to be as easy as they should. Nobody likes to write their mileage on a piece of paper every time they drive their car. There were some apps that used GPS to track the mileage, but GPS consumes a lot of battery, there are reception problems when you are in a city amidst high skyscrapers, and some might worry about the potential privacy issues regarding that form of tracking.

So we had to look into other solutions. What we came up with was using an OBD-II bluetooth adapter. Most cars have an OBD-II port that you can use to connect to the car data bus. This port is required by law in the US, the EU and many other countries and territories so it seemed like a great way to get the data that we needed. Different cars use different bus protocols for communication, and there are about a dozen different of those. After testing with some OBD-II adapters, we found a lot of problems with them for our use case. The biggest issue was that all of them wouldn’t shut off when the car turns off. That makes sense when you use the adapters as a mechanic and you want to troubleshoot a problem when the car is started or not. But if you leave one of those adapters connected and don’t start your car for a week, you’ll drain your battery. So we partner along with a hardware company and we develop a custom adapter to overcome all the problems we found.

Adapter production

Having solved the hardware issues we also had some very interesting challenges on the software side. We decided to start developing our software for Android. Since our adapter uses BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) to send the data we needed to capture that data and store it on the phone until a data connection was possible to upload it to the server. The main focus for the software was that it had to be transparent. On the first run the user should setup the connection to the adapter, but after that, everything should be automatic. That is, the user should not have to either open an app nor even take their phone out of their pockets and the mileage should be logged. We worked hard on making it happen.

Right now we have a working Android app and you can access your trips and export them from our website so you can use them on your accounting program o open them in excel to prepare your mileage log for your company. Some things that we are planing for the future:

  • iOS support is coming probably the first or second quarter 2015.
  • Android wear and other platforms support is on the pipeline as well.
  • We are developing an adapter that has internal memory so you don’t have to have your mobile device with you to track the mileage.
  • More integration options in the future, right now you can export csv that you can import almost in every accounting program or anywhere, but we are working on streamlining the process so it is even easier.

Car Footprints kickstarter

We are running a Kickstarter campaign right now, so, if it seems that it’s something that you might want to use, go check it out!

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