Well, it was bound to happen. The high-tech arms race has escalated once again. No, we're not talking about military weaponry. We're talking about the tech-driven cat-and-mouse game between law-enforcement agencies and motorists when it comes to setting and avoiding speed traps.
It all started, of course, with the radar guns used by police officers to detect speeders. Then came radar detectors used by motorists who wanted to skedaddle faster than posted speed limits. Then police began using laser units which are more effective and more accurate than radar guns and so on and so on.
The latest chapter in this arms race is the cell phone. Now that phones do so much more than simply allow you to make calls, there are applications for drivers that offer ways to help make the rush-hour commute less harrowing, more convenient and more time-saving. Of course, we don't recommend that you take your eyes off the road while you're driving, so use your best judgment when considering the apps we've highlighted below.
Avoid Traffic Back Ups
TrafficTweet is a smartphone app that uses the Twitter stream to report real-time driving conditions to other drivers. TrafficTweet was developed by Mobomo, a Washington, DC- based company that just started up four months ago and is the brainchild of the Indian-American entrepreneur Barg Upender – who was also a founding partner with Inridea, a web development company.
TrafficTweet, introduced in July, is an Apple iPhone app that offers smart-phone users a robust and quick way to view, search and "tweet" info on traffic conditions in any city. It relies on a public Twitter feed populated with real-time traffic data from the Twitter community.
One key feature of of Traffic Tweet is that it leverages the iPhone 3.0 OS Maps API to directly embed Google Maps into the application, which delivers a quick snapshot of all traffic alerts on nearby highways and roads. "Because the 3.0 iPhone OS has the maps built in, it's a very simple user interface," said Upender.
Mobile Car Apps We Love*
|Name||What It Does|
|Trapster||Collaborate with other drivers for info on where cops are hiding out; now includes info on accidents and traffic|
|TrafficTweet||uses the Twitter stream to report real-time driving conditions to other driverss|
|Dynolicious||Uses the iPhone's built-in accelerometer to measure your vehicle's 0-to-60 mph sprint time|
|GasBuddy||Lets you locate all the gas stations in your area -- and get info on their current fuel prices|
It leverages the Twitter Platform so that drivers using TrafficTweet can report current road conditions (traffic accidents, lane closures, speed traps and other alerts) to others via Twitter on an interactive map. App users can use color-coded icons to provide the driver with instant feedback.
These reports can be Tweeted to other Twitter uses with just a click of a button – as opposed to having to type in text messages – the latter method being one that is not only a dangerous thing to do while driving, but is also frowned upon by traffic cops. And the search function embedded in TrafficTweet allows the user to quickly search for conditions anywhere in the world.
"I'm here in the D.C area, which is has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country," said Upender. "And, what often happens is that people will utilize some traffic reporting service that is not in real-time – the data might be 10 minutes old. So, it shows that a particular highway to is 'all clear,' and you'll get on the entrance ramp, and soon discover, to your annoyance, that the highway is jammed, because the data is delayed.
"But TrafficTweet makes it easy for for iPhone users to tweet and search for local traffic conditions in real time – which we think we bring to an end to the days of the unexpected, unpleasant and frustrating experience of being stuck in a bumper to bumper traffic jam after being 'told' that the highway is clear."
TwitterTweet plans to also launch on Blackberry and Android in a few months, said Upender. And perhaps the best part, he added, is that the TrafficTweet app is free – at least for now. Starting in the fall, it will cost 99 cents.
Avoiding Speeding Tickets
Trapster is essentially a cell-phone social network that allows motorists to hook up with one another for the purpose of issuing real-time alerts about the location of speed traps. Over the last year, Trapster has significantly broadened its functionality, adding several new applications, carriers and formats.
When we spoke with Trapster.com founder and CEO Pete Tenereillo in mid-August, the big news at the time was that Trapster.com had just released its first Android version, which means it's now available on the T-Mobile G1 phone, which significantly increases its penetration, making it accessible to many more users. "Before, if a user had a phone that used the Android system, they didn't much care if it was available on the iPhone," Tenereillo said.
Trapster works like this: Go to the Web site, and sign up for a free membership. Then download the Trapster software to your cell phone or PDA. Tenereillo said that most current-generation cell phones, Blackberries and other PDA's can accommodate the Trapster software.
Then, you're ready to hit the road. And once you're tooling down the highway, if you spot a state trooper or city cop lying in wait with a radar gun or laser unit, you just need to punch in "pound one" on your cell phone -- or dial a toll-free number. Other users are then alerted on their cell phones or PDA when they approach the same speed trap.
"One great thing about that is that it's hands-free," says Tenereillo. "You don't have to be looking at the phone or even be holding it to be notified of the speed trap -- which, of course, is safer, because you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to be notified of the trap."
In addition to speeding trap info, Trapster has added more functionality. In addition to real-time data on speed traps, red light cameras, speed cameras, and roadblocks, Trapster now offers accident reports and traffic conditions, "local search" with driving directions, a map that rotates based what direction you are traveling in (similar to what's used on a GPS system) and a "fun trip' recording function, including geo-tagged photos, that allows you to track your trip and share it with friends and family -- who can watch your trip from any computer in real-time (like a flight tracker).