This story was updated July 23.
It’s been about 17 years in the works, and Demetrius Thompson is finally seeing his idea to prevent auto crashes – using cell phones – reach commercial fruition.
The application runs counter to Oprah’s No Phone Zone Pledge, but it was created to help prevent crashes, not cause them. The application uses a driver’s cell phone to deliver audible alerts when they’re moving faster than a predetermined speed and approaching a traffic light, railroad crossing or school – delivering sort of a “Hey, be extra alert here” message.
Thompson imagined the concept for the app after being struck – more than once – by drivers talking on cell phones. “What really kept me motivated over the years were stories like the one about five girls coming home from a cheerleader competition and colliding into an oncoming vehicle while allegedly texting,” Thompson says. “I knew I had to develop a way of preventing more accidents like this from happening.”
Thompson’s Los Angeles-based company, Global Mobile Alert (GMA), started offering the app in the Android Market on July 10 under the “communication” tab. It sells for $54.99 for a year’s subscription or $4.99 a month. Update: Thompson reports the price of the app is now $24.99 a year and it’s under the “Travel” tab.
Drivers were distracted even before cell phones entered the picture, and GMA wants to use the phone to make driving safter. “It’s not just about the cell phone and usage,” says Michael White, vice president of marketing. It’s “how to use the cell phone to an advantage.”
A lot has changed since Thompson conceived of his idea. Smartphones are all the rage, as are applications and application stores, and GPS is expected to be in 79.9 percent of all cell phones shipped by the fourth quarter of 2011, according to iSuppli. That’s up from 56.1 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and driven largely by smartphones.
It also just so happens that Navteq has added U.S. traffic lights to its extensive mapping system. GMA is the only one using the traffic light functionality in a location-based software environment as far as Chris Green knows. He’s senior technical support engineer at deCarta, which hosts the system, acting as sort of a go-between for GMA and the actual mapping data provided by Navteq.
Queries go to deCarta’s servers in Sunnyvale, Calif., and GMA’s software does the rest. “We’re a small part but a key part,” Green says. “They’ve done a good job on the software side.”
The app doesn’t include pedestrian crossings because, Thompson says, that would result in too many alerts going off constantly and it would lose its effectiveness. As it is now, a chirping sound – like the kind you hear at pedestrian crosswalks – signals an upcoming traffic light; a school bell warns about a nearby school; and the sound of descending crossing gates accompanies the alert for a railroad crossing.
Phil Baker, technology columnist and author of “From Concept to Consumer – How to Turn Ideas into Money,” describes Thompson’s product as a breakthrough that takes a mobile phone from a distraction to a guardian. That Thompson stuck with his idea as long as he did is almost unheard of, Baker says.
Thompson is in talks with carriers in hopes of landing a deal with a wireless operator that could put its brand on the product. The advantage of being Android compatible is it works with all the carriers as opposed to being an iPhone-specific app, he says.
GMA was a finalist at the Telematics Awards for Best Portable Telematics Solution, Best Aftermarket Device and Best Telematics Service & Application for Commercial Vehicles in 2009 and a finalist for Industry Newcomer and Best Use of Telematics Technology in the Public sector in 2010.