Companion Apps: Augmenting the Dash Cam UX
The correct choice of dashcam hardware is the key first step to building a video telematics solution that meets the needs of end-users.
The correct choice of dashcam hardware is the key first step to building a video telematics solution that meets the needs of end-users. Multiple factors, spanning form-factor, functionality, ease of installation, and more, determine if a hardware solution is the right one. While the choice in dashcam hardware is ever increasing, with thoughtful analysis it is possible to match the hardware to user needs. This key step, once cleared, brings us to the question of user experience – that is, the lived experience of drivers and fleets as they interact with a video telematics solution on a day-to-day basis. Great technology has often been burned by poor UX, and it is no less true of video telematics.
This is where dashcam companion apps come in, solving a big part of the video telematics UX puzzle. Smartphone applications that interact with dashcams in their vicinity are veritable Swiss army knives in the range of functionality that they bring to the table. At LightMetrics, companion apps have been central to the RideView platform from the beginning, with companion SDK’s available for Android and iOS allowing TSPs on our platform to build powerful and versatile apps.
The key functionalities mobile companion apps bring to the table are:
They act as a valuable tool when installing and provisioning devices. Many fleet dash cams do not have built-in screens for display and touch input, and companion apps are especially indispensable in such scenarios, and even otherwise. The RideView companion SDK connects to nearby dash cams over Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi-Direct on Android) and allows installers to live stream video from road and driver-facing cameras, makeing sure that camera field-of-views (FOV) are properly aligned. In addition, they also help in provisioning devices on the RideView backend and configure them with the correct vehicle duty type, service category, and a variety of other configuration parameters. Most of the dash cams we support are meant to be self-installable by the fleet, and companion apps built around our SDKs go a long way towards ensuring that.
Companion apps often take the form of driver apps, with the RideView companion SDK becoming a part of existing applications drivers use when on the job. When there are issues with the video telematics solution in the field, with the driver miles away from the yard, troubleshooting on the go becomes critical. From figuring out if cameras are functioning and streaming video correctly, to checking mounting and LTE connectivity status on devices, our companion SDKs have a diagnostics mode that automatically goes through a troubleshooting checklist and generates diagnostics reports on the backend that help support teams quickly narrow down on an issue.
The centrality of the driver experience to video telematics is something we have discussed before, and companion apps are a key part of that. The RideView SDK allows companion apps to display for drivers, on trip completion, driver scorecards, fleet leaderboards, incident videos generated during a trip, and more. A point to be noted here is that this data is populated on the driver device locally, over a Wi-Fi connection with the dashcam and not through a round trip via the backend, making network connectivity a non-issue. While scorecards and leaderboards are important to the gamification of the driver experience and help increase driver engagement, TSPs have also used companion apps to allow drivers to provide feedback and comments back to the fleet manager. This includes disputing violations where they deem themselves to be not at fault, thus providing an intuitive interface for incorporating driver feedback into the system. As a completely beneficial by-product, this feedback is used by our AI team when updating and improving our event detection algorithms.
Data upload and computing
As part of our portfolio of dashcam options supported by the RideView platform, we also support Wi-Fi-only devices without LTE connectivity, like the SmartCam (Basic variant) and RideCam solutions. These are paired with existing mobile hotspots in the vehicle for data connectivity, or in the case of HoS/ELD solution providers, with tablets and smartphones running ELD apps. In such cases, the RideView companion SDK also allows for data upload to the RideView backend via the companion SDK, using the LTE connection on the tablet or smartphone.
Even under the ambit of Wi-Fi-only dash cams, the RideCam solution is a special case. Designed as an affordable road-facing camera solution for ELD providers, it has neither onboard computing or storage. In this case, our companion SDK provides the additional functionalities of real-time video streaming from camera to mobile device, AI processing on the edge to detect events in real-time, and providing driver coaching notifications.
How they work
Now that the versatile uses of companion apps are apparent, it is worth looking under the hood at how exactly our companion SDKs communicate seamlessly with dashcams with minimal-to-nil user interaction. In the case of Android companion devices, the camera and device setup a Wi-Fi-Direct peer-to-peer network to exchange information. After establishing the connection, the data is exchanged over an encrypted protocol from the camera to the companion and vice-versa. As iOS does not support the Wi-Fi-Direct protocol, the iPhone and camera communicate over a regular Wi-Fi interface, with the credentials needed to connect to the camera being advertised over Bluetooth. In case of multiple cameras being available in the vicinity, all the cameras are scanned by the companion app and a list may be surfaced for the user to choose the camera to which he/she wants to connect. Alternatively, logic to automatically handle cross-talk is built into our companion SDK’s – that is, if a companion connects to the camera on a neighboring vehicle in the yard, the connection is reset and attached to the correct camera once the vehicle moves away.
In a world where everyone carries a smartphone in their pocket, companion apps are a key productivity tool for installers, drivers, and support personnel, as they operationalize and maintain video telematics solutions in the field. The long term success of any solution depends on this, and the investment in time and effort that we continue to make in further enhancing our companion device software suite is in recognition of this fact. Talk to us about building delightful mobile applications that take your video telematics solution to the next level.