Social Networked Cars: The Future of Connected Vehicles?

Talking and texting on cell phones while driving might be banned in many states, but will it some day be the norm to use social networks and communication applications on screens embedded in vehicles? If the work recently created by the students at University of Michigan, in conjunction with Ford, Microsoft and Intel, is any indicator, there will be as many innovative social applications connecting us in our vehicles as there are on our Internet-connected laptops.

Take the Caravan Tracker, an application made by Team Bob Cat from the University of Michigan, which enables multiple cars to connect while on car trips in order to share information about how much gas is left in the fuel tanks, competing fuel economy between the cars, shared routes, and land marks and gas stations on the route ahead. Team Bob Cat has been testing out the application on their very own road trip this week, which will end on Friday with an appearance at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif.

Other applications made by the students use in-vehicle social networking to help cut fuel consumption. The Fuel Tracker, made by Team Armadillo at the University of Michigan, records the real-time fuel economy of a vehicle and then compares that fuel economy to peers. The in-vehicle dashboard enables the driver to see other drivers that have driven the same, or similar routes, and suggests the best route for the best fuel economy. Another student team created an in-vehicle social ride-sharing platform, which can encourage on-the-go carpooling, and provides a rating and recommendation system for its users.

A fourth interesting app that’s a twist on in-vehicle traffic data is the crowd-sourced traffic mapping system called NostraMap, made by another group of students. Drivers can update the service in real time by noting where accidents or traffic backups have occurred, and the touchscreen system allows the driver to, for example, scrawl a quick “A” for “accident” on the screen with a fingertip.

The video below gives some quick interviews with the teammates and professors who were involved in the class, and you can check out this Facebook page for videos on all of the students’ applications. Is this the future of our connected vehicles?

For more research on connected cars check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

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