From shopping, public transportation, and grocery delivery to the news, weather, and every type of social media imaginable, you probably have a smartphone application for most aspects of your life. So why not one for your car?
That was the question that sparked Charles Clegg, co-founder of Custodian, an online platform designed as a catalog for car enthusiasts to catalog their prized vehicles.
From basic information like make, model and year to fine details about every service, modification and restoration performed throughout the car’s lifetime, Custodian intends to be a place to share milestones, photos and documents for each vehicle of the user are saved. Think of it as filling out a social media profile for your car, but one that doesn’t share data with advertisers who are hungry for your clicks.
For some of the UK company’s 5,000 or so users, cataloging every maintenance invoice for their car is enough, and a quick search online reveals that these early adopters are more than happy to diligently digitize their car’s history files. The next step is to share that data—for example, with a prospect who, with the seller’s permission, can view a car’s history without having to dig through boxes of historical documents.
Taking this one step further, users are prompted to enter even more information about their cars’ unique history. Custodian says: “Members can upload details of any experience related to their car, however abstract. This includes events attended, awards won, specialists deployed, upgrades installed, preferred products, annual mileage, occurrences and causes of failures.”
Additionally, Custodian gets interesting as it is both an AI-powered knowledge engine and an app for storing car maintenance data. The company has evolved in what it calls a “highly secure and instantly accessible digital repository, augmented by sophisticated knowledge graph technology.”
The knowledge engine Custodian hopes to create will be “similar to what Google is doing for the web,” says Jeremy Hindle, chief technology officer. It will, the startup hopes, become a place where classic car enthusiasts can enter a search term related to their vehicle or purchase interest and receive a response generated by a system that has learned from the data entered by Custodians users.
Hindle continues, giving an example of how a vehicle owner might ask the system for advice on a specific problem: “You have to figure out what answer someone is looking for based on the semantic meaning of the question. The difference for us [compared to a traditional search engine, like Google] When you have your car on the platform we have a lot more data points than a set… we have a number of data points about your vehicle, you and also the things you have done with your vehicle over time. So we have a much more objective starting point to find out what you want to find out about your vehicle.”
The search results provided by the Custodian platform are generated using anonymized data added to the system by its users.
Clegg, CEO and lifelong car enthusiast with an investment banking background, gives an example of how the platform could be used to find a trusted specialist to work on his 1975 Alfa Romeo GT Junior. “What you’re currently doing is going to Google and looking at the companies that might be popping up [in a search result], look at the reviews and you may have one where a single customer had a bad experience and left a terrible review. It’s very hard to know unless you already have a network [of fellow ‘75 GT Junior owners to inform you]. Our vision is that I can go into the custodian and see all the cars like mine, then see which ones are identical to mine, and see who the owners have hired to maintain.”
In the future, garages and repair shops will also be able to upload photos, documents and invoices (with the owner’s permission) to a vehicle’s depot profile, says Clegg. If the car is ever put up for sale, potential buyers can consult this documentation and see where the restoration took place, and the workshop can show their own customers an example of previous work.
Instead of opening a forum for car owners to chat and share knowledge in a more traditional way, Custodian insists artificial intelligence and a Google-like search engine driven by data entered by car owners provides a better solution for answering questions are. Hindel says: “[Using AI] removes the opinionated nature of [a messaging forum]… the reason we might have a chat room or forum is so you can then use that as an additional data point for the algorithm. [But] it will never replace it.”
Otherwise, says Hindle, “you get back to where you are right now. Wherever you go on a forum, and essentially whoever has the most stars and has lived on that forum the longest has the strongest and loudest voice. And that doesn’t mean they’re right.”
The platform is currently free to use, customer data is not sold and there is no advertising. Right now, Custodian’s source of revenue comes from offering auto insurance to its users. And because these users enter a massive amount of information about their cars, insurance ratings can be more accurate.
Clegg adds: “There are a lot of vulnerabilities around specialty motor insurance right now. Most insurance companies are over the phone and there are no effective digital solutions. One of the things we found when we spoke to our community was that they hate the transfer of data required to get insurance for a specialty car.”
Insurers typically require evidence to justify the value of a particular vehicle. Since Custodian already has this information entered by its users, it is hoped that a more accurate insurance rating and annual premium can be calculated. “That makes it seamless for us. We can provide you with an automatic quote if we already have the data,” adds Clegg.
Eventually, Custodian hopes to act as a database to preserve classic car expertise; Knowledge that is often stored on paper or in the minds of its owners. Clegg cites an example on his 1923 Vauxhall: “If there’s no way of preserving the knowledge of how to restore the gearbox, the differential and all those things in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, then who will know how to restore it? You won’t unless that knowledge is digitized and you actually have a place for people to access it. [Without that] it will make these cars almost impossible to own.”