Novel technology from product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants is set to transform the world of car hire. It could spell the end of disputes over liability if a car is damaged. And, if no damage is detected, the technology means zero-hassle returns – drivers will be able to just drop off their car and go.

The DropTag®DRIVE service is based on Cambridge Consultants’ DropTag condition monitoring technology. Using just a small tag fixed to the windscreen, it continually monitors all vehicle accelerations and impacts to give an accurate picture of what has happened to the car during the hire period.

“We’ve all suffered that anxious wait at the hire-car drop-off point as our car is examined for any signs of damage,” said DropTag product manager Tom Lawrie-Fussey. “Now there’s a way to keep tabs on the vehicle when it’s parked – and to help settle any arguments over who might be to blame in a crash.”

DropTag®DRIVE is a simple-to-use, low-cost system that uses Bluetooth Smart technology and connects to any smartphone. In high volumes, the cost for a hire car company works out at just £1 per tag per month – with the reusable tags lasting more than a year.

The tag is ‘always on’ – sensing what is happening to the vehicle and relaying the information to the driver and the car hire company via a smartphone app. In the case of an accident, DropTag®DRIVE can confirm if the vehicle was stationary when it was hit – removing blame from the driver. It can even detect very low-speed car park collisions – down to 2mph impacts.

If no incidents are detected during the hire period, the app will give the driver the all-clear as they arrive in the drop-off area – prompted by a signal from a beacon in the depot which lets the tag know it is about to be returned. The driver can then simply park the car and go on their way.

“DropTag®DRIVE involves precise sensing at a level of performance you wouldn’t believe possible in a consumable – it’s comparable to devices costing thousands of times more,” said Lawrie-Fussey. “This is combined with low-cost electronics and sophisticated power management so that a tiny battery lasts for more than a year. The tag weighs only 25g – yet it can unlock many of the unknowns of the car hire world.”

The advantage for the hire car company is that it gets real-time visibility of how its cars are being driven – helping with vehicle maintenance and turnaround times. Safe drivers could be rewarded with money-off vouchers for future car hire or pricing could be adjusted according to whether a customer is a low-risk or high-risk driver.