Meet Custodian, An AI-Driven Platform Built To Preserve Classic Car Knowledge

Meet Custodian, An AI-Driven Platform Built To Preserve Classic Car Knowledge

From shopping, public transport and food deliveries, to news, weather and every conceivable flavor of social media, you probably have a smartphone application for most aspects of your life. So why not one for your car?

This was the question that sparked an idea on the head of Charles Clegg, co-founder of Custodian, an online platform designed as a home for car enthusiasts to catalog their cherished vehicles.

From basic information like the make, model and year of production, to fine details about every service, modification and restoration undertaken throughout the car’s lifetime, Custodian intends to be a place to store milestones, photos and documents for every vehicle the user owns. Think of it as akin to filling out a social media profile for your car, but one where no data is shared with advertisers hungry for your clicks.

For some of the UK firm’s 5,000 or so users, cataloging every servicing invoice for their car is enough, and a quick search online suggests these early adopters are more than happy to diligently digitize their car’s history files. The next step is the sharing of this data – with a prospective buyer for example, who, with the permission of the seller, can see the history of a car without wading through boxes full of historic documents.

Going a step further, users are invited to enter even more information about the unique history of their cars. Custodian says: “Members are able to upload details of any experience related to their car, however abstract. These include events attended, awards won, specialists used, upgrades fitted, preferred products, annual mileage, occurrence and causes of any breakdowns”.

Beyond this is where Custodian gets interesting, because it’s as much an AI-powered knowledge engine as it is an app for storing car servicing data. The company has developed when it calls a “highly secure and instantly accessible digital repository augmented by sophisticated knowledge graph technology.”

The knowledge engine Custodian hopes to create will be “similar to what Google does for the internet,” says Jeremy Hindle, chief technology officer. It will, the startup hopes, become a place where classic car enthusiasts can enter a search term about their vehicle, or about one they are interested in buying, and receive an answer generated by a system that has learnt from the data inputted by Custodian’s users.

Hindle continues, giving an example of how a vehicle owner could ask the system for advice on a particular problem: “You need to work out what answer somebody’s looking for based on the semantic meaning of what they asked. The difference for us [compared to a traditional search engine, like Google] is that, if you have your car on the platform, we have a lot more data points than a sentence…we have a bunch of data points about your vehicle, you, and also the things that you’ve been doing to your vehicle over time. Therefore, we have a lot more objective starting points to work out what it is you’re trying to discover about your vehicle.”

Search results provided by the Custodian platform will be generated using anonymized data added to the system by its users.

Clegg, who is chief executive and a lifelong car enthusiast with an investment banking background, gives an example of how the platform could be used to find a trustworthy specialist to work on his 1975 Alfa Romeo GT Junior. “What you currently do is go to Google, look at the companies that might pop up [in a search result], look at the reviews, and you might have one where a single customer had a bad experience and put some awful rating. It’s very hard to know, if you don’t already have a network [of fellow ‘75 GT Junior owners to inform you]. Our vision is, I can go into Custodian and see all the cars like mine, then see which are identical to mine, and see who the owners have used to do the maintenance.”

It could also be possible in the future, Clegg says, for workshops and garages to upload photos, documents and invoices to the Custodian profile of a vehicle (with the owner’s permission). Then, if the car is ever put up for sale, prospective buyers could view that documentation and see where the restoration took place, and the garage gets to show its own customers an example of previous work.

Instead of opening a forum for car owners to chat and share knowledge in the more traditional way, Custodian is adamant that artificial intelligence and a Google-like search engine, driven by data inputted by car owners, is a better solution for answering questions. Hindle says: “[Using AI] removes the opinionated nature of [a messaging forum]…the reason why we might have a chat room or a forum is because then you can use that as an extra data point for the algorithm. [But] it will never replace it.”

Otherwise, Hindle says, “you come back to where you are right now. Where you go on a forum and, essentially, whoever’s got the most stars and who lives on that forum the longest has the strongest and loudest voice. And that doesn’t mean they’re right.”

The platform currently costs nothing to use, customer data is not sold, and there are no adverts either. For now, Custodian’s revenue stream stems from offering car insurance to its users. And because these users input a huge amount of information about their cars, insurance valuations can be more accurate.

Clegg adds: “At the moment there are a lot of pain points around specialist car insurance. Most insurances are phone based and there aren’t really any effective digital solutions. One of things we found when we spoke to our community is that they hate that transfer of data required to get insurance for a specialist car.”

Insurers usually ask for evidence to justify a special vehicle’s value. Because Custodian already has this information, inputted by its users, the hope is that a more accurate insurance valuation and annual premium can be calculated. “It makes it seamless for us. We can give you an automatic quote, given that we already have the data,” Clegg adds.

Lastly, Custodian hopes to act as a database to preserve specialist knowledge about vintage cars; knowledge that is often stored on paper or in the heads of their owners. Clegg makes an example of his 1923 Vauxhall: “If there isn’t some way of preserving the knowledge about how you restore the gearbox, the differential, all this sort of stuff, in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years’ time, who’s going to know how to rebuild it? They won’t, unless that knowledge is digitized and you actually have a place where people can access it. [Without that] it will make owning these cars almost impossible.”