Pop your trunk: Amazon has a delivery

B.C. company developing technology with Amazon to deliver packages to drivers’ vehicles

Vancouver's Mojio has developed technology (top left) that could help Amazon couriers pop open car trunks and deliver packages to customers while their cars are parked | Submitted/Shutterstock

While Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) generates buzz over aspirations to deliver packages via airborne drones, a Vancouver tech company has an even simpler plan for the e-commerce giant.

Why not drop off Amazon packages inside parked cars, even if the owner is nowhere around?

Vancouver’s Mojio has worked with hardware partners to develop a device that plugs into a car’s onboard diagnostic port and sends encrypted data to Mojio’s cloud over 4G LTE. A car that previously had no Internet connectivity is instantly online.

The technology caught the eye of wireless carrier T-Mobile US (Nasdaq:TMUS), which began selling Mojio’s technology at its 4,000 American retail outlets in November 2016.

“The product is selling even better than expected,” said Mojio CEO Kenny Hawk.

The company also launched the product in the Czech Republic last year through a partnership with Deutsche Telekom AG.

Hawk said he’s been in talks with all of Canada’s big wireless providers.

“It’s a matter of who’s going to be fastest among the three.”

By 2020 an estimated 152 million vehicles will be able to connect to the Internet, according to data provided to Forbes by Statista.

Mojio’s technology can connect the world’s remaining one billion cars to the Internet, allowing drivers to better track their vehicles’ movements and diagnostics.

Late last year, Amazon’s Alexa Fund invested an undisclosed sum in Mojio as part of an effort to bring its Alexa digital assistant beyond the walls of customers’ homes. The Alexa service is best known for responding to voice commands when paired with the Amazon Echo device.

“Alexa would like to get into the car sooner, and we give Amazon a great way to do that,” Hawk said. “They want to be the most efficient retailer on the planet, not just the biggest retailer, which they already are. They want to deliver packages to your house, to your office and to the trunk of your car. So eventually we’ll be able to pop [your] trunk and allow Amazon to deliver packages securely there, which will make it more convenient for the customers and a lot more efficient for Amazon to deliver to cars even faster.”

Lee Munson, a security researcher at Comparitech.com, said he would be wary of giving access to his car to a courier.

“Unlike me, however, most people who shop online only have two concerns: price and convenience,” he said in an email.

“As crazy as it sounds, there will be people who volunteer details about their vehicles, including where they keep them at any given time of day, and effectively hand over the keys in return for an easy shopping experience.”

Munson said that despite his security concerns, he expects the technology to gain traction among consumers.

Last year Emily Lam, a developer at Lieberman Software Corp. in Los Angeles, used Mojio’s device to develop an Alexa service that collects data from cars to track everything from fuel efficiency to tire pressure.

“As a developer, I see it as a really convenient tool if [Amazon] can get the right privacy settings,” she told Business in Vancouver.

“Convenience and saving time will override concerns for privacy.”

Lam, who is speaking this week about connected cars at the inaugural Alexa Conference, said the Mojio device fills a market gap among drivers who want to be connected to their cars even when they’re parked.

Rocky Ozaki, vice-president of community at the BC Tech Association, said the presence of anchor companies like Amazon and Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) is being felt among local tech start-ups that cultivate partnerships with those giants.

On January 12, Amazon said it would hire another 100,000  workers in the U.S. over the next 18 months.

The company did not reveal hiring plans for Canada, but it has been expanding its presence in Vancouver since fall 2013 when it posted job openings for 90 new positions.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson praised those plans, saying a move into a new downtown office could create as many as 1,000 new tech jobs.

Ozaki said his industry organization has been reaching out to anchors with local offices – most notably, Amazon and Microsoft – to bring in subject matter experts to train and mentor workers at early-stage tech companies.

“They’re catalysts in new technology development when you talk about Microsoft and Amazon,” Ozaki said. “They create partnerships with emerging companies locally, whether that is global supply chains, customer connections, elevating the opportunities for all of our tech firms.”