Apps are changing the way consumers approach driving

Waze, Parko and iOnroad - apps are changing the way consumers approach driving

Since Google acquired Israeli crowd-sourcing traffic app Waze earlier this year, the automotive industry has begun to recognise the country as a growing power in the apps world. Dubbed the Silicon Wadi, Israel’s answer to Silicon Valley is taking inspiration from congested inner-city traffic to develop new mobile solutions for driving problems.

At the end of 2012, The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute (IEICI) gave domestic developers a huge boost, announcing that global apps would be a new area for Israeli companies. A specialist unit was subsequently set up to develop an infrastructure that would help local companies enter this lucrative market. “There is no reason why Israel should not become a power in this field in the next few years,” said Ofer Sachs, Chief Executive of the IEICI told Globes at the time.

But why have Israel’s innovations become so important? Evidently they are meeting specific problems felt by drivers worldwide, but really it comes down to attention to new tech trends: crowd sourcing is the new black, so to speak, and augmented reality is certainly a creative way of keeping a driver’s (or passenger’s) eyes on the road.

The following apps are changing the way consumers approach driving, and OEMs and suppliers alike would be wise to take note now of what will be the future of navigation and in-car infotainment.

By the end of 2012, crowd-sourcing traffic app Waze had around 28 million registered users worldwide, with average use of the app estimated at 440 minutes a month per person. With a further 2.5 million people now signing up every month, it comes as no surprise that the app sparked a bidding war between Apple and Google earlier this year.

The app tracks traffic problems through its network of users, relying on them to report road closures, accidents and speed cameras – all features that Google’s popular map app did not have before Waze code was incorporated into it. As it relies on crowd-sourced information, Waze will only ever truly succeed through market penetration.

Outside traffic information, one clever innovation really puts this software above the rest: Waze uses the GPS signals which track app users to develop its maps. As each Waze enabled smartphone is driven around, it plots the car’s route, adding private roads and tracks to the system which may be missed by other maps.

Spurred on by a daily search for parking spots in Tel Aviv, Tomer Neuner developed Parko, an app which connects drivers looking for parking spaces with those leaving them. This free app has already built a following of over 65,000 users since its pilot scheme began in early 2013.

Like Waze, all information is crowd-sourced: location sensors automatically find vacated spots reported by other users, who are then rewarded with money, prizes or coupons for sharing.

Parko was named as one of Fast Company’s six Israeli start-ups to watch after the Waze acquisition earlier this year. Again like Waze before it, Parko has a rival in the form of Google, whose OpenSpot app for Android offers the same service – although users must report the free space, rather than it automatically updating.

With OEMs including Volvo now looking at autonomous parking systems, the potential for Parko is huge.

Another recently acquired app is iOnRoad. Bought out by Harman, the safety app’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) will be incorporated into the connectivity leader’s scalable and premium head-up displays (HUD).

“In the future, infotainment systems will have to focus far more on safety,” Michael Mauser, Executive Vice President and Co-President of the group’s Infotainment and Lifestyle Division, commented. “Our target is to make it affordable, bringing safety into all car platforms, not just the high-end. We owe it to consumers to do this.”

The software uses a smartphone camera and augmented reality to display alerts to drivers when they start to speed, drift out of lane, or get too close to the vehicle in front. The software runs off the phone’s GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope to relay the information.

When using the iOnRoad app-, the smartphone must be mounted below the windscreen’s rear-view mirror. Despite the Harman purchase, the app will continue to be sold via Google Play and Apple iTunes – making this a cheap, easily accessible alternative to built-in HUD systems.

Windows of Opportunity
Distraction is not something you would necessarily want in a car, but when it comes to back-seat drivers, keeping them entertained is becoming almost imperative for new connected car models.

When General Motors charged the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design with the task of creating new ways to give passengers a richer travelling experience, students at the Academy’s Future Lab came up with the Windows of Opportunity project. Rear windows were turned into interactive screens using technology similar to that seen in today’s HUDs, combined with sensors and apps.

“The use of interactive displays has been limited to the driver and front passenger, but we see an opportunity to provide an interface designed specifically for rear seat passengers,” said Tom Seder, GM R&D lab Group Manager for Human-Machine Interface. “Windows capable of responding to vehicle speed and location could augment real world views with interactive enhancements to provide entertainment and educational value.” Apps allow passengers to use the window as a screen, offering games, music sharing, and the ability to look through other users’ windows in real time.

Although GM has no immediate plans to produce the windows, the potential for this innovation is high.

Ruth Dawson