Hertz Rent-a-Car, the largest airport general use car rental brand globally, continues to test and adapt technology that would allow it greater flexibility in how it rents its vehicles and sells ancillary services during a trip.
David Trimm, chief information officer for the chain, says that the company is investigating technology that would add virtual touch-screen keypads to windshields, enabling guests to tap a code to enter a car.
The capacitive keypad on the windshield would measure the reflection of visible light on the fingers of the user. It is being developed by French car-sharing tech firm Eileo.
Hertz is considering technologies like that one to help achieve its goal of enabling all of its vehicles to shift between by-the-day bookings and by-the-hour bookings. Currently vehicles are set to only one or the other type of rental.
New computing platform
Toward that goal of boosting sales opportunities, Hertz has begun to install a general-purpose computing platform across its global fleet of vehicles.
Across the US, Hertz has installed its latest platform, NeverLost 6, in 10,000 vehicles. By year-end, the platform will be installed on 77,000 vehicles, which is the full fleet of vehicles that have fixed navigation devices.
The platform, which has a 5.7-inch display, has only basic utility today.
But the company may add internet features such as Facebook and Google, or possibly travel suggestions, such as for tours-and-activities inventory.
The challenge, as ever, is to present such information in a way that makes sure drivers are still driving safely.
The technology is mainly powered by Magellan's SmartGPS Eco, a cloud-based platform aggregating location and social, personalized content.
On August 12, Hertz debuted a trip-planning Companion app for iTunes and Android the platform that works with the NeverLost 5 and 6 vehicle computers.
It’s separate from the Hertz app for booking rental cars, and the app for Hertz 24/7, book-by-the-hour product. It is on the Hertz roadmap to have a degree of convergence among the apps, says Trimm.
To learn more, Tnooz spoke with Trimm.
What's the difference between NeverLost versions 5 and 6, the new system being installed on vehicles?
Since the previous version of our onboard computing system, NeverLost 5, vehicles have had the ability to access real-time flights and departure information, weather forecasts, and other Internet data.
If you as a guest created a profile for yourself on Neverlost.com, you could do all of your trip planning up front on a desktop or tablet via the site.
Once you're driving, you could access that itinerary on the vehicle’s screen by taping in your personal code.
This month we added a companion app that takes this concept onto your iOS or Android device.
You can do the same planning, but we have enhanced the options by adding 40 city guides.
If you download the city guide for Atlanta, say, you can use the app on your phone to pick through a curated list of nightspots, restaurants, museums, and attractions.
Once you’re in the car, you can see all of those options on the vehicle’s system and get directions to any one you like.
What about the augmented reality (AR) technology that Hertz has been touting?
The really really neat thing is if you are in, say, Atlanta, you can press the AR button and hold your device up and turn your camera around. On the screen, you’ll see which direction you need to go to visit the attractions you’ve selected.
I’m confused about how the code works. Could you clarify that?
If you don’t have a code, the vehicle system will generate a temporary code for three day use.
But if you do create a profile on neverlost.com, you get a code for life, good for all the itineraries you might build. On each trip you just key in a four-digit alphanumeric code, that is unique to you, not paired to vehicle.
What's another innovation that has Hertz adopted?
A challenge for any rental car company is its airport counters, which can be mobbed with spikes of customers at peak times.
We don't always have perfect advance knowledge of when we'll have a surge in people wanting to rent cars, such as when a several flights land around the same time.
To handle overflow, we have installed kiosks that, instead of being computerized, are actually video chat sessions with customer representatives based in Oklahoma City, Phoenix, or Dublin. Agents can review driver's licenses and other documents via the digital connection.
Guests get the advantage of speaking to an actual human being, albeit via webcam, rather than having to fuss with an inflexible computer. About 120 of the kiosks have been in use at select US airport locations since late 2011.