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Will an app that monitors your bad driving know when you’re talking on the phone while driving?

2011-12-19

Co.Exist

A Smartphone App That Allows Insurance Companies To Spy On Your Driving

What if your smartphone kept track of each time you didn’t use your blinker or swerved suddenly and compiled a record of how bad a driver you are? Big Brother or big business?

Even if you’re a terrible driver, chances are that nobody is really monitoring your in-car behavior. That’s because vehicle-mounted devices that track driving skills are expensive. The $899 (plus monthly fees) DriveCam, for example, is much too pricey for insurance companies to hand out to every bad driver that comes along. That may soon change with the Mobile Life Guard, a smartphone-based behavior monitoring and training system for drivers.

The Mobile Life Guard is the product of researchers from the University of North Texas. The research team recently participated in the National Science Foundation I-Corps, a bootcamp that turns promising research projects into marketable ideas. When I spoke to team member Ram Dantu about the Mobile Life Guard before the two-month-long I-Corps began, he admitted that "There is a large feature set, and we don’t know what’s useful to customers. We need some customer feedback."

At the final I-Corps presentation earlier this month, the Mobile Life Guard’s latest incarnation debuted. The app uses smartphone sensors to analyze vehicle, road, and driver behavior. So a swerve from the driver will yield a verbal warning of "left swerve detected," sudden acceleration will trigger a similar warning, and so on. At the end of the driving trip, the app provides a trip summary detailing everything that went wrong.

Originally, Mobile Life Guard was going to be a tool for driving schools and parents. But after getting out in the field to gather feedback, the UNT team discovered that their target market wasn’t interested. You can probably guess who was interested in a tool that provides a cheap and easy way to monitor driving performance: insurance companies. The trip summary proved especially interesting to them; it could provide a driving score that is somewhat akin to a credit score. Insurance companies could even offer discounts to drivers who agree to use the app.

Small scale trials of the app begin in January or February, and large-scale trials will follow close behind. In the meantime, Mobile Life Guard is moving forward with what the team calls a "tier one insurance company." It’s a Big Brother tactic, sure, but at the very least it might prevent some deadly crashes. The question is whether people will submit to using the app—and whether they should.

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