Vehicle data that could help improve fuel economy have long been available to mechanics and technicians with specialized tools. It’s been harder to get in the hands of drivers just trying to save a few dollars at the pump – until smartphones, that is.
“With mobile, we’ve got that capability,” said John Bobbitt, one of the creators of the new mobile app Fuel Economy Coach, being developed in Augusta.
Local tech firm Exponent Design Works won the initial “ideation” stage of the Department of Energy's Apps for Vehicles Challenge last month. The smartphone application they presented, Fuel Economy Coach, aims to teach drivers how to improve vehicle fuel economy, which not only saves money but also reduces the impact on the environment through lower emissions.
Bobbitt, Steve Tibrea, co-creator of the app, and a team of developers have worked through the week to deliver a prototype of their Android app for smartphones. Public voting for the final stage of the Department of Energy’s challenge begins Monday.
Winners will be announced April 1, when $17,000 grand prizes are awarded in both the judges pick and popular choice categories.
Fuel Economy Coach is just one of several apps to come out of Augusta’s growing tech community, said Eric Parker, co-founder and manager of the Clubhou.se, a local co-working space and technology incubator, and part of the Fuel Economy Coach team.
“There are several companies in town getting into app development right now,” he said. “There’s a tremendous need for the sort of software development they’re doing.”
Mobile apps are big business. Nearly half of cellphone users download apps, according to a November Pew Internet & American Life Project Poll.
More than 30 billion apps – short for “applications” – have been downloaded from Apple’s App Store as of Spring 2012. Google’s Android store celebrated 25 billion downloads last fall.
As one of eight national finalists, Exponent Design Works won $2,000 and the help of industry experts to complete its app. The creators have met with Ford engineers and Google team members, said Bobbitt, founder of Exponent Design Works.
“We’ve been getting these judges to consult with,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity.”
Their completed app will analyze road conditions, traffic and most important, driving habits in real time, to save drivers the most money.
“We’ll be able to tell if you’re climbing a mountain or how fast you’re accelerating away from that stoplight,” he said.
The app will display a green light for good driving habits, including not riding the brakes or speeding, a yellow light for neutral habits, and a red light for poor habits that will cost drivers money. There’s potential for businesses that operate fleets of drivers to save.
“The price of fuel just keeps going up,” Parker said. “With this app, we can’t change the price of fuel, but we can help you save on it.”