Mapping the new frontier in connected car apps

Idle time in cars is about to become a thing of the past

Published: November 19, 2014 08:00 AM

Do your kids tune out with their tablets as soon as they hop in the back seat? Do you sometimes arrive at a destination half an hour early with nothing to do? Do you wish you knew your spouse’s real mood before he or she got home from work? In-car apps could soon solve all these problems, according to a panel of speakers at the Connected Car Expo at the LA Auto Show.

Mary Ann de Lares Norris, COO of Oblong Industries, wants to combine existing technologies—such as GPS location services, gesture controls and accessible screens—to turn tablets into tour guides for kids on long drives.

So instead of the kids vegging out watching “Toy Story” for the umpteenth time, the tablet could recognize the child pointing at the St. Louis Gateway Arch and upload a document and movies detailing the Arch’s history and construction.

“It changes the conversation from, ‘Are we there yet?’ to ‘Hey, Mom, did you know?’” de Lares Norris says.

That’s just a starting point. Microsoft is working on mood-sensing software that can intuit kids screaming disruptively in the car and adjust the content of what is being shown on the back-seat screens.

Another possibility: Say your wife typically commutes home sedately listening to Adele. But one night, her driving is much more aggressive, and her smart phone’s Pandora search has been changed to Metallica. The car might text you that your wife might like a candlelit dinner and even pre-place an order for a flower delivery.

Bryan Biniak, Microsoft’s global vice president of developer experience, has seen apps that will use a car’s GPS to allow local vendors to display instant specials. Say your smart-phone calendar knows you have a lunch meeting, but you arrived 40 minutes early. A Groupon special for a half-off chair massage at a nearby spa may appear on your car’s center screen.

One big challenge for parents: Timing the arrival at destination with what the kids are doing in the back seat. Arrive too early, and the kids are annoyed they didn’t see the end of the movie. Run into a traffic snarl, the movie ends and the kids are squalling that they are bored. So-called “travel timed” applications will be synced to your car’s navigation system so that the game or program can be shortened or drawn out so that your arrival coincides with the kids finishing what they are doing with their tablets.

The next step in mobile entertainment is already racing to a dealership near you, in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Check out our coverage from the LA Auto Show.

—Mark Rechtin

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