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Coding for cars: The next generation of mobile apps

Peter Wayner | April 6, 2015
Developers will need to rethink UIs, connection strategies, and how to capitalize on new data streams -- especially as autonomous cars start rolling off the lots.

This power will grow as robot drivers take over. Humans still have minds of their own, with which they develop shopping patterns. But robot chauffeurs will be connected directly to the search engine and will likely be configured to take the captive human to the venue that bids the highest, all other factors being equal. How much will convenience stores bid for search terms like "milk"?

Hands-free use is new UI
The user interface for cars is more complex, especially when humans are still driving them. Ford, for instance, is very sensitive that new apps will distract the human driver, and it says it will reject apps that are too "visually oriented" or "do not translate logically to voice commands." App developers will need to rethink their user interfaces and maybe even the entire architecture of their app.

This will fade as autonomous cars begin to dominate because the riders won't need to watch the roads. When that time comes, riders will probably use the same devices that they do in any sofa or lounge.

It's tempting to imagine that robot cars will need even more entertainment options. After all, kids consume DVDs like candy when you're driving them around. Won't their parents do the same, once they're freed from the job of driving?

The reality is that the adults will be lucky to spend the time in the car binge-watching Netflix. The bosses will be ready to send you that new proposal to review, then all of the bills and housework will follow us into the cars too.

Location is more complex
It's one thing to use an IP address to find the rough position of a user sitting at home. It's another to track this location as it changes at 60 miles per hour. If the network lag is running high and the server takes 15 seconds to respond, the car could be more than a quarter-mile away from where it was last. Oh sure, the car will generally be moving along the highway, but potential turns could change everything. This will make search much more complex and time-dependent.

Robot drivers can share tons of data
The modern car generates a huge amount of data, and this will only grow larger when robot drivers become common. Many cars already have backup cameras, and the robot fleet will probably come with 10 to 20 cameras per car, all generating HD video. All of this will be ready for analysis by new and unexpected business opportunities.

The U.S. Postal Service is already exploring using its fleet to track the environment. The robot car fleet will be able to keep an extensive watch on any place that humans regularly travel. Will lawn-care companies rent time on these platforms to track when clients' grass needs a trim? Will painters look for prospective customers with peeling homes? Will bird watchers receive alerts about rare species from roving cars?


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