Driving just got a whole lot easier! Not really, but the cellphone in your pocket wants to help make it easier to get from Point A to Point B. The idea is make sure you arrive safely, not lost, full of gas and good food. Here are some apps that may simplify your driving life:
TireCheck: We all agree (except for a few Republicans) that it makes sense to monitor tire pressure, but who has time, and don’t you need some kind of fancy gauge thingy? No longer, say the folks at Neomatix, an Israeli company. You download the free app (below), input your car make, then use your phone’s camera to photograph your tires — you get back detailed information about how much air you need to add (or subtract), the effect on performance of your current inflation, and other useful details. Kfir Wittmann, the founder and CEO, tells me, “The app works with computer vision and image-processing algorithms. Basically, we can tell the pressure according to the shape of the wheel of a known car.” If you have a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) in your car, you may not need this, but most of us don’t.
I’ve Got Gas!: Who doesn’t want an app that not only helps you find a gas station, but gives you up-to-date pricing for comparison shopping? Gas Buddy locates the closest gas stations based on your current location and finds out what they’re charging through the Oil Price Information Service. It also uses a network of volunteer gas price spotters. Others in this field include Fuel Finder (which claims to save $300 a year), RoadAhead (which finds your ideal exit), and FuelSmart Pro.
Parking Made Simple: You’re in luck if you live in Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston or New York, because a company called Streetline has installed sensors in parking spaces across the cities. The Parker 4.0 app for iPhone can tell which ones are open and direct you to them. No more circling! According to Donald Shoup at UCLA, 16 studies on cruising times were conducted between 1927 and 2001, and they found that the average circling time was eight minutes — and 30 percent of the traffic was people looking for spaces. There are other apps that do similar things: Parkopedia (which claims to index 25 million parking places in 28 countries), Park Shark (which works by sharing parking information) and more.
No Calls, I’m Driving: A variety of apps are available. The basic goal is to keep you focused on the road instead of sending texts and emails. Sprint Drive First has a free trial, then costs $2 a month. It sends texts and calls to voicemail above 10 mph. AT&T DriveMode replies to calls and texts with a message saying you’re driving and will be back in touch later (app is free, but you get charged for outgoing messages). T-Mobile DriveSmart (Android phones) is aimed at thwarting teenage texters by throwing up a lockscreen that prevents calls, texts or certain applications above the same 10 mph (determined by a motion sensor). Key2SafeDriving, for Blackberrys, does the same stuff but allows certain emergency numbers to get through. Others like this: Safe Driver (for iPhones, free) and ZoomSafer ($25 a year and for new drivers, parents can get instant access to their kids).
RepairPal for iPhone (free): This is better than a box full of old bills. It’s an online repair history for your car, and it can also find estimates for specific jobs in your area. The shop inventory is GPS enabled. It also has roadside assistance functions.
Plug Finder: For electric car owners, ReCargo, for iPhone or Android (at right), is great for finding a fueling station when you really need one. It knows where you are, and will direct you to places to plug in. It also interacts with Yelp to find you food en route. PlugShare will actually locate residential stations that will give you access, as long as you ask nicely. ChargePoint is another one to check out.
Finally, it’s not strictly an app, but I was just sent a DriveCam Video Event Recorder, which is primarly directed at fleet owners to monitor company driving. A suction-cup camera (which plugs into the cigarette lighter) goes behind the rear-view mirror and “it records the critical seconds before and after a risky driving event, including views of both the road ahead and the driver.” In other words, what you did right and what you did wrong. I’ll let you know how it works. It’s interesting in light of the recent trend to put airplane-like data recorders in cars—most new cars have them now, but soon it will be the law.
Here's a closer look at that tire pressure app on video:
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