coModule transforms any vehicle into a smart vehicle by facilitating the control and collection of data from the vehicle’s subsystems.
‘We believe that connected vehicles will be market-changers in the coming years. How? By revolutionizing the way that manufacturers and consumers engage with each other,’ says Kristjan Maruste, CEO of coModule.
The Berlin/Tallinn-based startup coModule has developed a connectivity platform which takes light electric vehicles from ‘dumb’ machines right into the age of technology by connecting for instance e-bikes and e-scooters to users and the manufacturers alike. The manufacturer is provided with data needed to support the product development and validation process. For the e-bike user, there is a smartphone app available which, among other things, provides navigation and route tracking, and also comes with the promise to ‘cure range anxiety and prevent theft’.
But what does this mean? Since concerns about theft and vehicle range are usually the major issues preventing people from purchasing an e-bike, coModule’s technology solves these issues with a tiny hardware module that is either integrated and hidden inside a bike’s frame or in the display. The hardware module allows GPS tracking to locate the bike if it happens to be stolen and also transmits accurate battery information to the smartphone to visualize the available range of the bike at any given moment.
The coModule team came together during their studies at Tallinn University of Technology where they participated in the international product development competition called ‘Formula Student’. The main objective of the competition was to design, build and present a single-seater formula car prototype. As the team gained a lot of knowledge and information about electric vehicles, batteries, hardware and software through building the electric formula car, they wanted to put this information into good use also after graduation. All this on a much wider scale, concentrating on the future trends and technologies.
As a result, the team started developing connectivity solutions for light electric vehicles and presented their technology for the first time publicly at the 2014 Barcelona Mobile World Congress, and in the summer of the same year coModule was admitted into the Berlin business accelerator Startupbootcamp – Smart Transportation and Energy.
Startupbootcamp provided the first investment for product development and helped finding initial customers. In addition, the coModule team was able to secure mentoring from leading business- and technology specialists. In the next financing round, coModule received funding from Estonian and German business angels and once the company had proven that e-bike producers were interested in their product, the German leading technology investor, High-Tech Gründerfonds, invested half a million Euros in the company! coModule is now registered in Germany but the product development takes place in Tallinn, where the company’s founders Welix Klaas, Heigo Varik, Kristjan Maruste and Teet Parks are based.
Welix Klaas, the company’s CFO, points out that whilst today electric bikes tend to be associated with the elderly, such bikes are gaining more and more popularity among younger people since manufacturers have really been working hard to create modern designs and different models (eg. city bikes vs mountain bikes).
Electric bikes are the future in other words. As proof of this, more than million e-bikes are sold annually in Europe today and the number is growing by as much as 20 per cent per year. There should thus be approximately 200 million light electric vehicles (LEV) on the streets globally by 2017, and by 2025, this is predicted to become the biggest vehicular industry sector.
‘In February, the e-bike manufacturer Faraday Bicycles had a successful Kickstarter campaign for their new e-bike model called Cortland, which includes our connectivity and GPS tracking technology. I think the success of the project demonstrates just how popular e-bikes are and will continue to be – in fact long before the deadline, the project had raised far more than the original goal of $100 000,’ says Klaas.
There is even a study that shows how cycling not only reduces congestion and CO2 emissions, and improves public health, but is also a boost to economic growth and the creation of jobs. The European Cyclists’ Federation argues that if 10 per cent of transportation budgets were dedicated to biking-related infrastructure, it would result in a $205 billion boost in economic benefits for Europe through savings in health and fuel costs, reduced carbon emissions, and jobs created by tourism and bicycle sales.
At present the value chain between vehicle manufacturers and customers is a one-way street from the component manufacturers to the end user. None of the parties have a real understanding of what happens in subsequent steps. The vehicle manufacturers have very little contact with the end consumer; they don’t know what they want, or how they use and enjoy their product.
‘coModule seeks to redress this: ‘What we’re doing … is turning this one-way street into a multi-directional highway, allowing the manufacturers to gather data from the user as well as from the dealers,’ says Kristjan Maruste, adding that ‘By installing coModule tech at the manufacturing stage, we provide manufacturers the understanding of their clients.’
As coModule’s tech can monitor user data, including common journeys, battery performance, etc., it helps manufacturers to build products aimed directly at their clients. At the same time, it gives the dealers the possibility of substantially growing their inventory by having automatic service notifications as well as updates of new product releases for the users.
But what about coModule’s competitors? Welix Klaas says that there are a couple of other companies who are trying to develop similar technologies.
One of the most well-known competitors of coModule is Deutsche Telekom, who sees a huge opportunity in mobile connectivity in the bike sector. ‘But this is where the benefits of a startup versus a big corporation really show – we are faster, more flexible and so we reached the marker earlier!’ Klaas continues.
Some e-bike manufacturers are also trying to develop something themselves, but the experience has already shown that they reach for coModule after realizing that building a connectivity platform is not within their core competence.
coModule is currently raising their next seven-digit investment round to accelerate the technology roll-out and equip hundreds of thousand of vehicles with the most advanced connectivity platform.