So Long to The “One-Size-Fits-All” Automotive Experience: The ABCs of Read-Write Access

We’re already personalizing our homes and work spaces with smarter technology; drivers should expect the same from their vehicles. Vehicle optimization is a tangible possibility for the 300 million vehicles already on the road in America today. Using write-access, owners can take the standard technology they buy with their vehicle, and endlessly personalize it with software upgrades tailored to meet drivers’ needs. As write-access advances, there is unlimited potential to bring other technologies such as social networks and infotainment to our vehicles’ computers. It’s only a matter of time (and awareness) before people begin to view their cars as part of their digital lives that they can optimize and personalize easily, rather than being limited to “one-size-fits-all.”

ECM: The Brain

Meet the ECM, or engine control module, of your car: there’s actually more going on under your hood than pistons, tubes, and fluid. The ECM is just like a normal computer using processors that communicate with each other over networks to determine operation of the vehicle in every situation and move through standard functions. For example, the ECM directs the engine how to generate the right amount of horsepower and torque when towing and tells the dashboard gauges how to read and display the engine’s temperature. This control system software is pre-programmed at the factory by the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and is one-size-fits-all for each vehicle model.

Most people don’t actively interact with the ECM unless there’s a problem. When a check engine or other fault indicator light flickers to life, you take your car to the mechanic, and the technician plugs in a tool that gives read-access to all of the modules and processors and what they’re seeing in the vehicle’s network. The read-access tool utilizes the OBD-II (On Board Diagnostic) port, the window into the vehicle’s computer network, which is located below the steering column on every vehicle manufactured after 1996. It gives the technician access to view information like DTCs (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) and other system data.

There are multiple telematics companies using read-access to enable drivers and owners to keep track of their vehicles’ activity and alert them based on personalized settings. Verizon Hum, for example, has geofencing and speed alert capabilities to help parents monitor their newly-licensed children by notifying them when the car is going to an unintended destination or speeding on the highway. Geotab provides insights dashboards to fleet managers with the day’s stats on their drivers’ speed, acceleration and braking rates, fuel usage, and other metrics. While telematics products deliver interesting insights into vehicle usage, these solutions are quickly becoming commoditized; trying to reactively adjust driver behavior to insights from telematics is inefficient and inconsistent. With only read-access, owners still have to rely on drivers modifying their habits themselves to better use their vehicles safely and appropriately.

Write-Access: Changing the Code, Not the Driver

Write-access software is the next level of vehicle technology, bringing action to these insights. Vehicle owners can now override generic software to optimize the ECM with specific business and usage functions and needs in mind. Similar to setting preferences on a navigation system, writing to the vehicle’s ECM customizes the vehicle’s operation for its mission-specific purpose (e.g., speed dynamically limited to posted roadway parameters, torque controlled to optimize for payload, idle RPM reduced for fuel efficiency).

What Write-Access Can Do For Your Vehicle

Safety, savings and sustainability are three important benefits write-access can provide – an attractive proposition for all vehicle owners regardless of vehicle use. Derive Systems identifies the needs, desires, pain points and preferences of its customers, and personalizes the ECMs of their vehicles so that they perform optimally for that specific need. And because Derive's write-access technology is infinitely adaptive, it can make unique adjustments based on each use case.


For parents of new drivers, changing the vehicle’s capabilities as a safety precaution is unprecedented. With write-access, parents can program their car’s computer not to exceed a permitted maximum speed and to prevent the engine from starting if seat belts aren’t fastened. However, it doesn’t change the car’s core capabilities – when parents drive the same car, they can lift these safety precautions and fully utilize the vehicle’s performance.


Many fleet vehicles idle 5-6 hours per day: police, municipal, and small business vehicles are both transportation and mobile office. By customizing vehicle software, Derive Systems makes the vehicle idle at a lower RPM so that the engine uses less fuel and all accessories (e.g., air conditioning, 12V outlets) are still powered properly for the required usage. This means major fuel savings.


By lowering idle RPM and optimizing the engine’s fuel usage, write-access technology can easily upgrade your car to have a lower emissions footprint. For example, Derive Systems worked with a major telecom company’s fleet to save over 9,000 tons of CO2 emissions, equivalent to removing 1,680 cars from the road annually.

Derive Systems is able to target these areas of concern (safety, savings, sustainability) and make hundreds of precise changes to specifically calibrate each vehicle. In about 10 minutes, using the OBD-II plug-in, technicians and owners can upload customized software to the vehicle’s computer. Derive Systems has successfully deployed its write-access technology on over 1.7 million vehicles and passed on savings and safety benefits to vehicle fleets for clients in the telecom industry, building and repair services, and more. The ability to deliver upgrades to the software that runs the vehicle means action – no more simply hoping for well-behaved drivers.