Catching the CAN Bus – How the Gamification of Vehicle Data Can Benefit Us All

Catching the CAN Bus – How the Gamification of Vehicle Data Can Benefit Us All

A vehicle’s CAN (controller area network) bus acts like its central nervous system, ferrying data between the many electrical modules that keep it running. But for app developers, the CAN bus is also a rich source of data about how people drive and how the car responds.

Increasingly, auto makers and cloud developers are using CAN bus information to gamify the driving experience, by analyzing real-life data to provide tips, rewards and challenges. Here we look at how gamification makes driving more fun, but also how it could deliver big savings across a commercial fleet.

Today’s vehicles bristle with smart systems. In a typical car, up to 80 electrical control modules (ECMs) act as the brains behind everything, from engine management through to the entertainment system, and even windscreen wiper performance. Many advanced features require ECMs to talk to each other, which is where the CAN bus comes into play.

While the purpose of the CAN bus is to ferry information around the car, it also provides a simple interface through which data can be assimilated. Connect a compatible device and you can log everything a vehicle reports about its health and the journeys it undertakes. Vehicle manufacturers have long used CAN bus data to help diagnose various systems during servicing, but with the rise of the smartphone, some have got more creative.

Game Face

By analyzing, comparing or modifying data from the CAN bus, developers can use it in apps to introduce game-like experiences. The Volkswagen Connect app, for example, uses a Bluetooth dongle to transmit selected vehicle data to the driver’s mobile phone. The app sets VW owners real-world driving ‘Challenges’ which are focused on efficiency and overall driving skills. Rewards are offered when drivers achieve specific targets, including badges and trophies and other incentives.

While VW’s app remains comparatively forward-looking among vehicle manufacturers, it serves as an example of what can be achieved once CAN bus data is harnessed and integrated with a smartphone app, giving drivers insights and incentives based on the data available.

CAN bus access isn’t restricted only to vehicle manufacturers and their agents. Newer, more sophisticated dash cams and drive recorders can now access the CAN bus too. For app developers, that’s a rich source of information that could be used to power driving apps, whether they’re targeting the public, fleet owners or dispatch managers.

So, how could a commercial fleet benefit? For the typical driver, apps powered by CAN bus data could bring additional fun to driving and encourage better discipline. By recording how hard you brake, accelerate or corner, for example, apps can challenge you to become a better driver. From a fleet management perspective, it simply means having better employees.

Where a smart device combines CAN bus access with a data link to the cloud, there’s even more scope, especially for fleet managers looking to improve efficiency and safety fleet-wide. In a cloud-enabled app, real-time efficiency data could be compared across the fleet, for example allowing drivers to compete to be most efficient on a certain route, or overall.

Fleet manager shares performance data with driver

Organisations can go one step further and introduce live leader boards, rewarding the best drivers with prizes or bonuses to incentivize better driving. A new take on traditional Employee of the Month incentive schemes. This could benefit overall staff morale, safety and efficiency, while lowering fuel costs, maintenance bills, and possibly even insurance bills due to reduced accident rates.

Beyond the Game

While gamification can entertain and incentivize drivers to reduce running costs, there are other serious benefits for the business. In short, a smart fleet app can provide a better link between vehicles and employees. For example, where a driver deviates suddenly from their usual driving style, such as by accelerating or braking more harshly, the app might notify a supervisor to call and check everything’s OK. Or if a vehicle’s lane departure and steering systems suggest erratic driving, supervisors could immediately check for a tired or distracted driver. Catching these warning signs early could help to further reduce accidents, or the chances of drivers being stopped and penalized by the police.

CAN bus data also reveals much about a vehicle, including when its systems aren’t performing as they should. By analyzing vehicle health in real time, a smart fleet management app could flag up potential issues to both the driver and fleet manager. If a tire begins to overheat, for example, an app might provide the driver with additional safety warnings, while notifying a supervisor to begin arranging a mobile repair.

Benefits of using the CAN bus data to gamify driving

With key data describing all vehicle systems, accessing the CAN bus opens opportunities for developers wanting to build exciting or educational driving apps. By adding a competitive element such as challenges, leader boards or skill points, developers can gamify driving, making it more fun. With specific designed challenges, apps could help improve a drivers understanding of efficiency and safety on the roads, raising the standards across private and professional drivers, to the benefit of us all.


VIA recently launched the VIA Mobile360 D700 Drive Recorder, a full-featured, compact dual camera 1080p driver recorder that is available with custom software support and seamless Microsoft Azure, and AWS cloud integration. The unobtrusive and compact design includes GPS support with live tracking using a customizable app, a 3-axis G-sensor and four infra-red LEDs that ensure a clear video stream of the vehicle’s interior at all times. Crucially, the VIA Mobile360 D700 Drive Recorder also supports CAN bus integration, a key feature that opens up many of the possibilities discussed in this article.

Learn more about the VIA Mobile360 D700 Drive Recorder here.

You can also watch this short introductory video:

VIA Technologies, Inc.