July 20, 2014

One Of The Coolest Things You Didn’t Know About Silvercar’s Technology

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By: Allen Darnell, CTO, Silvercar

When we set out to build Silvercar two years ago, we started with the basic premise that the process of renting a car was, broken—and that’s sugarcoating the hell out of it.  At its core, car rental has never really been an experience designed for the customer, and the result? A lot of bad customer experiences…

Our first move was to grab a couple of markers and a whiteboard. And on it we wrote everything that frustrated us about the typical car rental experience. We ran out of space almost immediately. We were left asking ourselves a number of questions. Why can’t they ever tell me what car I’m actually going to get? What does it really mean when I get “upgraded” to a minivan? Why do they feel it’s necessary to charge so much in fuel fees? And toll fees? And fees to manage the tracking of the other fees? What’s with the lines? What’s with all the paperwork and the signing in triplicate? Why… why does it all suck so badly?

With that whiteboard as inspiration, we designed a process flow with the traveler in mind, eliminating all the above … curiosities. What we couldn’t solve with the Audi A4 itself, we solved with modern technology and a sensible approach to building a mobile app. What we couldn’t solve with technology and apps, we solved with customer service. The sequencing of all of it together—the car, the use of apps and technology, the customer service—forms what we call the “Customer Journey.”

One of the biggest challenges we faced coolest things we got to do was to figure out a way to enable our app (your phone) to interact with the Audi. The A4s themselves aren’t equipped to do this and there isn’t any turn-key, off-the-shelf product that would do it for us… so we geeked out, went all modern-day Macgyver, and built our own bespoke hardware that closed the phone-to-car-to-phone loop. And then we sneakily installed that hardware into the A4s… turning them all into Silvercars.

So, yes, if you were wondering, we do have our own circuit board hiding somewhere, secretly, inside the car. And no, this is not a challenge to go find it.

One of the excellent things this hardware does happens when you return your Silvercar at then end of your rental. That piece of hardware (let’s call it a Silverboard) is connected to a few networks in the vehicle, one of which allows us to read the exact amount of fuel in the tank, down to the liter.

We connect to the Silverboard using Bluetooth, which in turn connects to the car, figures out exactly how much gas is left, and then sends a message back up to our servers. We combine that fuel information with the exact time you returned the car and any tolls you may have driven through (more on that in another post) in order to calculate your bill. Then we charge the credit card on file and email you a receipt, all of which takes about four seconds.

So when you bring that Silvercar back at the end of your next rental, watch your receipt for the fuel amount. It’s coming directly from your car.