Raven – Teaching Older Cars New Tricks

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Raven

Having the ability to keep tabs on your car shouldn’t mean that you have to buy a whole new car – and now it doesn’t. The first of a new breed of devices, the Raven from Klashwerks offers a suite of features that will turn older cars (post 2008) into connected cars. It’s a dash cam, navigation, security, car diagnostic, and driver monitoring system all rolled into one $299 gadget.

Raven is essentially a smartphone converted into a dashboard device for the car. It’s based on the Snapdragon 650 processor, usually used in mobile handsets, and it uses a persistent cellular connection, so you always know where your car is. There are also exterior and interior video cameras, so you can check out what’s happening inside and out, remotely, and at any time. It gets power and information by being plugged into the OBD-II port located under modern vehicles’ dashes.

Available for pre-order, the Raven isn’t due to ship to customers until April. But I took it for some early test drives covering hundreds of miles and found its features inspired confidence and held up remarkably well in a variety of conditions.

RavenThe Raven’s list of features is lengthy. In addition to the two cameras, it includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 4G LTE connectivity. Two internal microphones help to pick up in-cabin sounds. There’s also an accelerometer (to sense crashes), a proximity sensor (to recognize hand gestures), and an air pressure monitor should someone break a window. There’s 16 GB of internal storage and a microSD slot that can accommodate cards up to 256 GB. You can download video directly to your phone (via Wi-Fi Direct) or up to the cloud for later viewing.

All these features are accessible via an Android or iOS app. When the car is parked the app will text you if your vehicle is towed or broken into. It will also tell you if the car battery is getting low (it requires some power over the OBD power) and shut itself off if it is in danger of draining the battery. A backup battery in the device ensures that even if someone (say a teen driver who doesn’t want to be tracked) unplugs it, you’ll receive an alert.

You can also access Raven via a Web browser and see where your car is on a map, as well as a recent photo from the car’s camera. It also includes a handy trip sharing feature so that can e-mail friends and family a link where they can track your progress; no need to call or be distracted by having to text your location. The link only lasts for the duration of the trip.

While driving, Raven takes a time-lapse recording of the trip and will automatically record accidents or initiate a recording with a hand gesture (starting 30 seconds from before the gesture). Vehicle alerts include engine starts and car diagnostic faults, as well as driving alerts, such as hard acceleration, sudden braking or speeding. If you’re in an accident, Raven can be set to automatically contact family members with location information.

A separate cellular subscription is needed to make Raven work, but it doesn’t lock you into a multi-year contract. A basic $8-a-month plan (using T-Mobile) lets you check on your vehicle 60 times a month over video. If you want up to 120 live video check-ins, it’s $16 a month, and a full-blown $32-a-month package adds remote uploading and downloading of video recordings and a total of 240 live video check-ins.

The one downside is that Raven only works with cars built from 2008 to the present. Although the OBD-II port that many dongles use has been standard in vehicles since 1996, Raven also relies on CAN Bus communications within the car and those standards weren’t mandatory in the U.S. until 2008.

The Raven is significantly bigger than most dashboard- or windshield-mounted devices. The half-moon shaped chassis is 7.9 by 2 by 1.1 inches, so there’s a potential to create a noticeable blind spot, depending on where you position it. The Raven includes an adhesive backing on a mounting bracket to stick it to the windshield or dashboard. A single cable with plenty of length to accommodate even a big SUV stretches from the Raven across the dashboard and down to the OBD-II port under the steering wheel.

Over nearly 500 miles of testing, the Raven proved useful and easy to operate. The color LCD displays offer a sort of head-up display, and you can choose what information you’d like to see, such as battery and fuel levels. I stuck with the speed and time displays. I double checked the speed readings against the onboard speedometer as well as against a radar detector, and Raven’s readout proved accurate.

On an empty country road, I also intentionally tried to generate some aggressive driving alerts. The Raven didn’t seem to be overly sensitive, but it did send me several aggressive acceleration warnings.

Here’s Raven’s recording of my recent drive through the country-side – remember it’s time lapse – I’m not going THAT fast:

The automatic time-lapse recordings covered several hours at a stretch without any glitches. Any time the car was running – even warming up while I was shoveling snow – it laid down a video recording. I found the forward videos clear although it was still difficult to make out license plate numbers, particularly at night. Nighttime recordings also suffered from some banding distortion. (Raven is aware of the issue and said the software problem would be fixed before the official release.)

The driver reports portion of the app was not finished in time for my initial tests (I’ll follow up with an update). Anticipated reports should include parameters such as braking, acceleration and speeding; the sorts of information a parent would want to know about a teenager’s driving behavior.

Unfortunately, the navigation portion of Raven’s software also wasn’t ready in time for me to test it. The company will be using Mapbox for routing and directions, which we will test when it’s released.

For anyone with an older vehicle who wants added security, connected navigation, and driver assistance, the Raven is the most complete solution available. The nearly $300 price point may sound steep for a dashboard device, but many other car add-ons – such as the Garmin Speak Plus – cost nearly as much and offer much less.

This is Raven’s promo video:

 

2 COMMENTS

    • Click on link in first paragraph of story – takes you to the company website where there’s another link for their store.

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