Despite the well known dangers and the fact that it’s, well, illegal, it seems many drivers are convinced that they’ll be the exception to the crash statistics when it comes to mobile phone use in the car: over 50 percent of drivers in a 2011 government survey reported that they had used a mobile phone while driving, with just 28 percent of those using a hands free device.
While various companies have tried to get drivers to go hands-free with their phones, the stats show that, clearly, none have really stuck. Australian startup Gizmosis hopes that their app Otto will be the one to do it.
Founder Alex Kain describes Otto as “an always-listening voice control mobile application that enables drivers to manage calls and text without them ever having to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road.”
Essentially, Otto is Siri or OK Google designed especially for the car – the driver can ask the app to read out emails or texts or make calls. However, rather than being based or modelled on Siri, Kain said the original idea for Otto simply came from watching Knight Rider growing up and wanting to have a talking car. In 2007, he produced a version of Otto for Windows computers.
“It was quite expensive to have a whole Windows car computer, and it wasn’t so forthcoming back in 2007. So now it’s morphed and developed into this mobile application which is completely hardware independent,” Kain said.
Kain admitted that putting Otto up against Siri and Google is a tough ask, but believes that where they offer generic assistance, Otto focuses on what’s really important to drivers.
“We’re starting to fill some of the gaps that they don’t tackle. Because they’re such big products and they cover so many things, it’s hard to get down to the fine details just for driving and that’s what we want to specialise in. That’s our unique advantage over those other services,” he said.
As well as helping drivers access GPS, email, texts, call functions, and social media, Otto can be asked to monitor fuel and nearby parking. Currently available on Android with an iOS app in the works, Otto is free to download, with in-app purchases available to unlock features such as taking Otto signatures off texts and emails. However, Kain believes the Otto app is just the beginning.
“Rather than it being a safe driving app, what we’ve created is actually a whole platform that enables hands-free communication between humans and devices, and that means a lot of exciting possibilities in such as wearable technology and smart home. All those sorts of scenarios where you would envisage being able to talk to a device,” he said.
Gizmosis was selected to take part in the first Jumpstart accelerator program earlier this year, which Kain said allowed them to validate their assumptions about the product and look at how it could be targeted to different niches.
“We’re looking at motorcyclists, as well as sales reps who are constantly on the road and need to be productive. We’re creating an enterprise version that will enable sales reps to dial their customers directly out of Salesforce, for instance.”
With Kain having bootstrapped the company up til now, the seed funding provided through the Jumpstart program allowed Gizmosis to get Otto onto the Google Play store and start developing the iOS version.
The startup also opened an investment round on Demo Night, while Jumpstart’s association with the NRMA has presented the opportunity for a partnership with the motoring company in the future.
For the moment, Kain said the focus is getting word out about Otto through social media and discussions with various interest groups.
“While most people would agree that texting while driving is dangerous, the problem is that three quarters of people still do it, and it’s a real issue. What started off a long time ago as a cool product has really gone on a journey, where now we’re trying to really make a difference with Otto to try to save some lives.”