DOE Vehicle Data Challenge Fuels Innovation

Last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the winners of the Apps for Vehicles Challenge.  The competition challenged developers and entrepreneurs to demonstrate how the open data available about most vehicles can be used to improve vehicle safety, fuel efficiency, and comfort.  DOE awarded New York-based Dash the Judges’ Prize and Michigan-based MyCarma the Popular Choice prize. Green Button Gamer, based in Massachusetts, won the Safety Innovation award and Fuel Economy Coach from Georgia received the Fuel Efficiency Innovation award. 

Many people don’t think about data when they are filling up their gas tanks.  But the majority of American cars have onboard data-systems that can help people in new and undiscovered ways.  That’s why the Energy Department launched the Apps for Vehicles Challenge during the first-ever Energy Datapalooza last year—to spur innovators to create new technologies that improve safety and fuel efficiency. 

These vehicle data systems exist because of a 1996 regulation and subsequent industry standard on emissions from vehicles. Today, when a car is inspected for compliance with those standards, mechanics simply plug in a reader to a digital port that is usually hidden under the steering wheel. 

But what’s especially exciting for innovators is that those onboard diagnostics ports actually contain much more information than simply emissions data, including information about brake positions, fuel tank levels, and steering wheel positions—all of which could potentially be used to fuel new consumer applications, products, features, and services.

In just a few short months, the finalists for the Apps for Vehicles Challenge demonstrated what could be done by empowering people with access to data from their own vehicles. For example, they created new tools to measure individualized fuel consumption, expose underlying details beyond the generalized “check engine light,” recommend personalized route optimization options, offer financial advice on the purchase of a new car, or send text messages through an opt-in service when teenage family members drive over the speed limit. 

These examples also demonstrate the importance of rigorous privacy protection in any transportation apps.  For applications submitted in the Apps for Vehicles Challenge, personal data can only be accessed if an individual chooses to allow third-party providers to access their data.


Prizes like the Apps for Vehicles Challenge are now a standard tool for open innovation in every Federal agency’s toolbox. Federal agencies, in partnership with our private-sector and philanthropic partners, are using prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their missions. In fact, since its launch in 2010, has featured more than 250 prizes offered by over 50 Federal departments and agencies. For future updates on data-driven competitions and events, please follow @ProjectOpenData on Twitter.

Cristin Dorgelo is Assistant Director for Grand Challenges at OSTP

Ian Kalin is the Presidential Innovation Fellow at the Department of Energy

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