Your car is one of your most valuable possessions, and your family is the thing you value most in the world. But we lose connection with both as soon as your spouse backs out of the driveway to take the kids to school.
With all of the technology in our world, we have yet to find a good way to secure our vehicles and the important cargo they transport – a primary reason Raven was invented. It’s packed with cameras, sensors, navigation, diagnostics and data to keep you informed at all times. Raven helps you know where your car is located and what is going on in and around it.
While testing out the new connected car system, we spoke with Russell Ure, CEO of Raven-maker Klashwerks — and experienced how it can enable a new level of connection with our cars.
Dumb Cars in a Smart World
The inspiration for the Raven is easy to pinpoint for Ure, and easy to identify with: family. He describes a frightening drive his daughter made from Montreal in a snow storm with a cell phone that died along the way. He had no way of contacting her or knowing where she was.
“That trip made me feel so helpless. I was worried and frustrated; I thought, our cars are so sophisticated, but they can still be so dumb,” Ure told Digital Trends.
Using his experience with Piper, the smart home security system, Russell Ure and his team decided to incorporate IoT and connected car technology into a new device. Along the way they added high-definition cameras, infrared night vision capabilities, GPS, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a 4G LTE connection, and much more.
Raven feels like a finished product that wasn’t simply thrown together by a startup for an Indigogo or Kickstarter campaign.
All of this technology is packed into Raven at a rather fair $300; the device started shipping this month. Each Raven comes with three months of free LTE service, after which you can sign up for one of three service plans at $8, $16, or $32 per month. Most features are available at the basic level, and the upper tiers only support higher levels of video streaming and cloud services. Raven can be used without any LTE service, however; you simply won’t be able to access any remote features.
Behind the Wheel
Unpacking Raven, you’ll find a slender plastic body only slightly smaller than a rearview mirror. A camera on the back records the road, while a front-facing camera and two small display screens face you inside the car. We mounted Raven upside down on our windshield and the display and cameras automatically sensed the change and rotated accordingly. Video records as soon as your device is connected to your car and powered on. They’re saved to the internal 16GB of storage, which can be expanded through a MicroSD slot. Videos automatically overwrite once space is full, but simply placing your hand in front of the interior camera triggers a “gesture video.” Use it to capture important moments: It saves 20 seconds prior to and 30 seconds after the gesture.
Raven receives power and information about your vehicle by plugging into the OBD-II port on most 2008 or newer vehicles. It even works on most hybrid and electric vehicles, with some exceptions. We tested on a 2017 BMW i3 electric car and had an issue that was unique to this model: An alarm goes off if any device is plugged into the OBD-II while parked and locked. Thanks, BMW. (This is a common complaint from i3 owners who want to use that port for tracking driving for insurances purposes or use of smart devices, not a defect within the Raven itself.)
The interface is miles ahead of what we’ve come to expect from these type of new products.
Once you are connected, the Raven application on your phone can pair with the device and allow you to name your vehicle and set your display settings. While driving you can have Raven display information such as fuel level, a compass, your current speed, or even altitude. Each display setting worked well and was a nice bit of added utility. Raven blends in well to most interiors and was designed not to stick out or distract while driving. Ure said the design was meant to be simple and utilitarian, not only to remove distractions but also to avoid attention from potential thieves while parked.
Before setting off on your drive, get directions on your phone ready to sync for the built-in navigation. Once inside the vehicle and connected to Raven, the display will show turn-by-turn directions and distance to your destination. This lets the driver focus on driving and avoid handling their phone while behind the wheel. The navigation uses the same Mapbox API found in most Teslas and worked extremely well. While on your journey you can share your location and information with anyone in your contact list. The “share” function from Raven sends a link to a secure webpage with your current location on a map; it will eventually display a glimpse inside and outside your car during the drive.
Stay Connected From Afar
Beyond simply sharing your location, Raven lets your family stay connected while on the road. A parent or spouse can set alerts for things like hard braking or aggressive acceleration. They can then view the current location, as well as interior and exterior video to make sure the driver is safe. Future improvements will add even more alerts for things like speeding, traffic, or accident detection. The camera automatically saves video of all driver alerts, similar to the gesture alerts, which can both be downloaded directly to your phone’s camera roll through the media manager screen and Raven’s built-in Wi-Fi connection.
Beyond keeping track of what a young driver does on the road, the system allows you to easily record and share any highlights from a road trip or family adventure. You can view the History menu for a calendar and trip details for each day. A time-lapse video of each drive is saved and can also be downloaded, great for imagining that your commute in traffic was actually 4 minutes. The video download system works seamlessly once paired, and the interface is miles ahead of what we’ve come to expect from these type of products.
Leaving your car parked in a dicey neighborhood can always be unsettling, and Raven adds a bit of security and piece of mind. Raven’s parked settings allowed for alerts when our car was “bumped” and worked well with a good body check to the side of our car in testing. Future improvements should add alerts for a loud sound, smashed glass, or if someone were to open your door or move your car. These safety features go beyond what most traditional security systems can accomplish in newer vehicles; it was nice to have eyes on our car at all times. Raven uses a Qualcomm processor to monitor your car’s battery health and slow down the frequency or even stop snapshot updates pushed to the app in order to keep the battery alive if your car is parked for a vacation.Our Take
In a market of smart accessories for your car — where a lot is promised and we’re often left disappointed — this device simply delivers. The background with Piper security is apparent, and the Raven application and interface look and feel like a finished product, rather than one thrown together by a startup for an Indiegogo campaign. In addition to the 3-months of free LTE service, Raven offers a 30-day return policy: Simply return the product if you’re not happy after trying it out in your car. The company also backs up its product with a one-year limited warranty that will repair or replace your device if it stops working after baking in the summer heat.
Is there a better alternative?
Nothing else on the market packs this many features into a package at this price. You’d need to combine a head-up display that is connected to your car like the Hudway Drive along with a Garmin Dash Cam 55 to come even close to the same level of utility.
How long will it last?
Connected car products rely heavily on the longevity of the company offering the monthly services, and it doesn’t seem like Raven is going anywhere soon. With recent additional funding from Celtic House, Klashworks and Raven should offer years of support to keep this product updated. Also, the team at Raven talked about expanding the network capabilities out to major network providers to offer additional LTE data options in the future.
Should you buy it?
Is the concept of recording your drive and watching your car from afar appealing? Then you should absolutely buy the Raven. The product delivers on expectations, and the basic monthly cost of $8 is worth the additional remote features that it adds to the product.