Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tech Column: Driving Me Crazy

by Bill Adler

The recent thread on the Cleveland Park Listserv about the Porter Street speed camera got me thinking about apps for driving for smartphones. Moving maps on smartphones have made our driving life more pleasant because we never have to pull over to find out where we are. But are there other ways in which smartphones can make driving a less stressful experience? The answer is that there are plenty.

Before I describe some of these apps, I want to say that you should never use your phone while driving. This isn't one of those bland legal disclaimers or a PSA: It's really important. Everybody's driving skills are diminished by multitasking, no matter how good a driver you think you are, or actually are.  Focus on driving first and foremost. Otherwise you might end up like the teen driver in this MSNBC report (www.on.today.com/wv3XmV). She was texting while driving. Here's what she texted and what happened next: "'I can't discuss this matter now. Driving and facebooking is not safe. Haha!' Soon after she slammed into the back of a slow-moving truck. She died instantly."

Let your passenger play with these apps:

Trapster, www.trapster.com, is an app for both Android and iPhone that warns you with an audible alert about speed traps. Some people use this app to know when to speed; others use it to remind themselves that they ought to drive safely. Either way, Trapster slows you down. As one Virginia Beach police officer
remarked about radar/speed camera apps: "I'm all for them. A couple of GPS companies have sent me requests to verify and validate where our cameras are. I helped them. If that's what gets them to comply, that's fine." Trapster knows all about the infamous Porter Street speed camera, too.

AR Missile is possibly the most fun driving app on the planet. (AR stands for augmented reality.) Did somebody cut you off? Is that car in front of you simply too ugly to be allowed on the road? AR Missile tracks and destroys moving targets from the comfort of the car's passenger seat. You can see AR
Missile in action here: http://bit.ly/yGj7Cd and get a copy for your iPhone here: www.psoft.co.jp/apps/en/armissile.html. AR Missile also works on people talking loudly on their cell phones in restaurants.

If you'd rather not obliterate bad drivers with AR Missile, you can report them with Fail Driver, www.faildriver.com, an app for iPhone and Android. Enter in the license plate number, then using the pull-down menu choose the type of bad driving --from "littering" to "nearly hit me"-- and your report gets added to that car's permanent record. If you create an account on Fail Driver you can also see if somebody has reported you. Nobody's perfect, after all.

How good a driver are you anyway? Using Driver Feedback by State Farm, you can tell. The app, available at http://bit.ly/z58tLT, uses your iPhone's accelerometer and GPS to see how smooth and safe your acceleration, braking, and cornering are. Driver Feedback supports multiple users, so you can compare scores with family members. The app does not report your skills to any insurance

Should you end up metal to metal with another car, there's iWrecked for the iPhone and Android that takes you through the steps of what to do in the aftermath of a crash: www.vurgoodapps.com/iwrecked. Or you could find your insurance company's instructions; they're probably somewhere in your car's glove compartment. Or at home in your desk. Or online. Yeah, better to get iWrecked.

Augmented Driving, www.imaginyze.com gives you a heads-up display of the road while you're driving. You need to mount the phone to your windshield to use this app, but once there, Augmented Driving superimposes additional information about the road onto a camera-eye view of what's ahead. Augmented Driving, iPhone only, alerts you to lane drift, lets you know if you're following the car ahead too
closely, displays your speed, shows your compass heading, and more.

You may not have the latest model Mercedes with NASA comparable technology, but you can turn your car into an advanced transportation device with these smart apps.

Neato robot vacuum cleaner. It eats pollen and dust for breakfast, while you have your pancakes and sausage, http://amzn.to/Adc8nx (Adv)

Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft . He tweets at @billadler.

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