San Francisco taxis are getting interactive panels so cab riders can look up local information and news using a touch screen from the backseat.
The panel presents the passenger with real time news headlines and streaming video from both CNN and local media, as well as entertainment guides with restaurant information and movie listings. It also displays emergency information and shows government issued alerts in case of child abductions.
"Taxi drivers love this," Interactive Taxi chief executive Corey Gottlieb told vnunet.com.
"One driver told me he had a bunch of kids in the back and they were all quiet because they were playing with the display."
His firm pays cab operators for the right to install the $3,000 units in their cars. The company expects to make money by selling advertisements and premium listings to restaurants or nightclubs in its directories.
The system connects to a server in head office every five minutes through a 3G wireless connection, sending back user information as well as pushing out the latest updates of advertisements and news. To deal with poor 3G reception and loss of the signal in tunnels, the unit uses caching and synchronisation technologies.
"That way customers get the illusion that they are on a broadband connection," said Doug Shelley, director of engineering for Progress, the provider of the synchronisation software.
The panel runs Windows XP Embedded. The company had to swap out hard drives for flash memory after bumpy taxi rides proved to be too demanding.
Future versions of the unit will be equipped with a credit card reader. That will not only enable passengers to pay for their ride through the unit, but it also allows for enhanced services such as reserving or buying movie tickets.
The future addition of a GPS receiver will allow passengers to follow their route on an interactive map, and may also help with the recovery of lost items.
Although passengers often don't remember the number of their taxi, they do know where they were dropped off. The GPS receiver will allow the dispatcher to quickly see which taxis were in the area at a certain time, increasing the chance that passenger recover their lost items.
The company currently has 600 units installed in taxis in Boston and Chicago and expects to install 200 more units in San Francisco.
But the Holy Grail is New York. The city recently completed a pilot and local authorities will soon require all taxi companies to install information panels such as these. More importantly, New York leads the world in terms of taxi innovations, Gottlieb said.
The company has no plans for international expansion, but has received inquiries from places ranging from London to Dubai and Australia, according to the entrepreneur. Instead of setting up overseas operations, Gottlieb expects to licence his technology.
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