Telematics has long been restricted to the young driver niche, but Mike Brockman’s ThingCo is looking to shake things up with a fresh approach to telematics technology and a revolutionary solar powered device

We have all heard of telematics motor insurance policies.

They usually come in one of two camps, with a couple in-between attempting to find the best of both worlds, but usually coming up short.

In the first camp we have the traditional blackbox. Expensive and costly to install, these devices usually provide the best data, but the accompanying cost base makes them impractical for all but the highest premium drivers, constraining telematics to its traditional young driver niche.

Smartphones, meanwhile are cheap – they pretty much only require the development costs of the app – but are open to abuse by the driver and, as such, don’t offer the quality of data that many underwriters require.

ThingCo, however, is looking to do things differently, and this third camp could be about to change the world of telematics for the better and open it up to the mainstream.

Mike Brockman - ThingCo

Founder and chief executive Mike Brockman says that by selling its telematics devices straight to the consumer, ThingCo can open up the data to being owned by the customer, rather than the insurer, making the product more accessible for everyone.

“[When you sell the device to the consumer,] the data belongs to the consumer, and we can then be there to make the data work for them,” he says. “One of the benefits of the consumer having access to that data is being able to buy cheaper car insurance, and anyone can do that [regardless of age].

“Other benefits include similar ones to other telematics providers, such as rewards [for safer driving], but this is not a new benefit. We are doing this already.”

Brockman cites the example of a rewards programme available through ThingCo’s Theo device that offers discounts with companies such as Deliveroo, Just Eat, car washes, Enterprise Car Rental and others, as well as the usual reduction in premiums available through a telematics policy.

“We are targeting all ages with Theo, whether that be younger drivers, people with families or the older generation,” Brockman adds.

Smartphones not so clever

ThingCo’s doubters may still say that smartphones offer the cheapest and easiest route to market for insurers looking to dip into telematics, but Brockman is not convinced.

“The problem with apps is that you are 100% reliant on a phone,” Brockman says. “In a car environment, you cannot fully ensure that the driver will always use their phone [to record the trip] or use it at the right time. It is quite a leap of faith, from an underwriting point of view, to give discounts when you can’t guarantee the phone is active at all points.

“That doesn’t even take into account that the quality of information derived from a phone is not going to be of the same sort of quality you get from a standalone device.”

And Brockman says this is simply not good enough for a market that is so dependent on high quality data: “The thing about telematics is that it is all about using data, and you need to have that data 100% reliable and of the highest quality.”

To help overcome the high costs of installation of devices such as traditional hard-wired blackboxes, Brockman and his team at ThingCo have come up with a solar-powered telematics device, Little Theo, that can be sent out in the post and stuck on windscreens without the need for costly installations.

The device is currently about to start proof of concept trials with around 10 businesses, including a number of insurers.

Brockman says this is just another way ThingCo are looking to take telematics into the mainstream.

“It just sticks on the windscreen and because it uses solar energy it doesn’t need to be wired up to anything,” he says. “The device can run for 50,000 km without recharging, but if you do need to recharge it can just be plugged into the cigarette lighter the same way a phone charger would, but hopefully you won’t need to do that because it is solar powered.”

Little Theo, along with ThingCo’s other telematics devices, also incorporate Amazon Lex technology to allow voice interaction between the device and the driver, something Brockman says is particularly useful for first notification of loss.

“If you have an accident our crash algorithms will detect that and the machine will speak to you first and if you say you have had an accident, it will put you straight through to a human,” he says. “With this technology, you are right there with the driver immediately because the device starts talking to them straight away.

“As an insurer, that allows you to give them help, determine liability using the telematics data and offer a much better service.”

“And of course this is all on top of all the reward programmes that can be available,” he adds.