The V-DAQ Story
V-DAQ the startup founded by Rylan Kolb and Paul Fenech has created a precision position and motion product to integrate cars with the connected world. Alternatively described as ‘the black box for cars’. V-DAQ transmits data to the cloud that can help automate crash detection, augment crash reconstruction, provide real time road monitoring and much more. Simply put, imagine how many lives could be saved if the 1.3 billion unconnected cars and trucks currently on the road could automatically detect a crash and warn first responders. In addition, they have been working with road managers, insurance companies and emergency services to provide their users with savings on insurance premiums, toll fees and emergency response.
Starting as a university project in 2016 they have quickly moved from success to success. For instance, being invited to talk about the future of Australia’s smart infrastructure to gaining their first customer trials. They are certainly having an exciting journey.
“Imagine how many lives could be saved if the 1.3 billion unconnected cars and trucks currently on the road could automatically detect a crash and warn first responders.”
Rylan and Paul at the 2018 iAccelerate demo day.
Photograph by iAccelerate
How it all began
When then mechatronics students Rylan and Paul started a normal university project little did they know less than a year later they would be knee deep in the startup world. Initially, they were given the scope to ‘create a traffic monitoring system’ but quickly started to realise the extra potential a product in this area could bring. With Paul working on the hardware design and Rylan on the server side software they created the first prototype. Using simple technology, like a 2G module, they were able to create something reasonably functional quickly and cheaply.
They showcased it in October 2016 at the University of Wollongong trade fair. By attaching the prototype to a remote control car, collecting the data from multiple crash tests, they were instantly showing the value of their idea. This did not go unnoticed, they created a buzz around their new idea which ended up with them getting invited into the iAccelerate startup incubator at the start of 2017.
Early product demos.
From an idea to a startup
Although being invited into a startup incubator was an amazing privilege, Rylan and Paul had a lot to think about. This was a different path than many of their peers. They had to decide if taking the risk of no pay and learning different skills was worth the rewards. However, they decided it was and stand by it being one of the best decisions they have made.
During this time they worked on the business model, validating the idea and created prototype number two. This prototype was more functional than the original, allowing them to show potential customers. They gained amazing insights into the idea and saw the massive amount of opportunities in the market.
After finishing the iAccelerate education program they still had their degrees to finish but weren’t about to put V-DAQ on the back-burner anytime soon. Rylan was able to work on developing the product for his final year thesis. Meaning he could get his degree and work on V-DAQ simultaneously. Therefore, saving them a year in research and development time. Developing their unique hardware and software took huge amount of skills and time. However, they learnt on the go, quickly understanding the value of simplification and using the right tools for the job.
“Simplification was the key.”
At the end of 2017 they had been developing the product with both the consumer and enterprise markets in mind but were having trouble explaining to consumers the benefits the product would bring. People couldn’t understand why they would go through the effort of installing the device in their car. It was also around this time that dashcams were becoming more popular so they made the strategic decision to add a camera to the product. This simple change made a huge difference in how people understood the product. They were no longer asking why would I install it but looking into how the extra features could benefit them. This gave Rylan and Paul a big boost moving into 2018.
R&D for the MVP
2018 was a busy year developing the product. After receiving several grants including the MVP grant and R&D tax incentive they were both working full time on V-DAQ. Creating new prototypes every other week. They had a choice, to develop a product quickly knowing that it would need to be changed in the future or take more time to design a product that can scale for the next 5-10 years. They decided to design for scale. This decision makes sense, the V-DAQ product is sold as a service with a monthly or yearly fee for the software and data acquisition. Developing the hardware product to scale gives them the ability to add new features in the future, allowing them to add extra value with over-the-air software updates. This is a strategy being used by many hardware companies from Apple with the iPhone and the App Store to Tesla providing software updates that improve the car after purchase. This is a great way to provide their customers with more value and at the same time helps them to capture more value.
Around the middle of the year they got an invitation to collaborate with the private and public sector on the future of Australia’s smart infrastructure. For a young team, new to the industry this was a very exciting opportunity to showcase their product in front of many of the top names in the industry. Having this support and feedback helped validate that they were moving in the right direction as well as giving them contacts they could go to for help in the future.
By August 2018 they were conducting in-house testing regularly and making the last incremental changes to get the product ready to test with customers.
Into the wild (Customer Trials)
In November 2018 V-DAQ started their first customer trials, a big achievement for two mechatronics students only one year out of university. They were now testing their product in several types of vehicles doing trips from 5 minutes to several hours. Each journey added up quickly and they have now collected data from over several thousand trips. This brought a new wave of insights from a product and business perspective. From the business point of view they realised the enterprise market is substantially more valuable and easier to enter, ‘having 1 customer with 1000 products is better than 1000 customers with 1000 products’. From a product point of view they were able to pin point the core functionalities that enterprise customers wanted. This has allowed them to reduce hardware costs by half and focus on the most important areas.
Trialling products with customers is very important and an amazing way to quickly advance a product. You can learn and improve on every part of your business from the messaging you use, to your overall business models and much more.
Endless Possibilities, Lazer Focused
Rylan and Paul are working on a product that has endless possibilities and use cases but through working with customers they have been able to narrow down the core functionalities to focus on. Looking towards the future they are feeling positive. With a big enterprise deal in the pipeline and funding opportunities on the horizon they have a busy few years ahead. Due to their engineering background they are constantly iterating and improving the V-DAQ product but now with a business mindset also influencing decisions. I’m excited to see the V-DAQ products speed off in every car in the future. We will keep you updated on their journey.
Find out more about V-DAQ here: www.v-daq.com.au/
Do you have any questions or want more information on the story? Comment below and we will try our best to answer them.
Resources & Recommendations
- STM32 microprocessors are great for quick prototyping and production on an enterprise chip. It comes with a great developer environment (Atollic), and with a peripheral library generator to provide most of the hardware setup (Cube MX).
- PCBWay has great prototyping PCB service, with a quick turn around and cheap production.
- Github is a must for software.
- Manufacturer or component specific community forums are very well manged by the suppliers and a good source of accurate information.
- Read the systems integration manual, and white papers around applications. A lot of the time there are similar uses, or cases where you can apply the same logic to that specific component for your own application; this really helps to ensure your designs are robust and won’t cause problems in the future.
- Always focus on getting your hardware to the point that it won’t cause you issues, it can be extremely painful to debug software when you don’t know what is at fault.
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