Data driven: DOE ‘Apps for Vehicles Challenge’ leverages car data streams to spark innovation

Data driven: DOE Apps for Vehicles Challenge hopes to use data to make driving safer and more efficientWhen it comes to improving America’s cars and trucks, the U.S. Department of Energy is jumping on the data bandwagon.

The DOE challenged app developers to use the copious amounts of data collected by onboard sensors to improve safety, fuel economy, and general efficiency.

Roughly 40 entries were submitted for the Apps for Vehicles Challenge, and the DOE recently picked the winners.

The DOE judges chose Dash as the grand prize winner. It pulls data from any OBDII-equipped car’s sensors, as well as ambient data like weather and traffic information, to measure a car’s performance.

Dash can give drivers tips on maximizing their miles per gallon, and warn of mechanical problems. It’s currently in closed beta testing and is expected to launch on iOS and Android in the third quarter of 2013.

The grand prize winner by popular vote was MyCarma, which generates a “personal fuel economy label.” Unlike most fuel economy apps, it specifically analyzes driving style.

After observing a driver for seven days, MyCarma can make educated guesses on what drivers can expect in a new car. It can project fuel mileage for up to three vehicles based on a person’s driving style. It’s currently available for free on Google Play.

Green Button Gamer: Driver Challenge got an honorable mention for safety. This app turns safe driving into a game by awarding points for gentle braking, gradual acceleration, and adhering to speed limits.

Drivers automatically lose if they quit the app while a game is in progress, which is the developers’ way of curtailing texting while driving. If you want to give it a try, pull over and download Driver Challenge from Google Play.

Taking home an honorable mention for fuel economy was the aptly-named Fuel Economy Coach. Like MyCarma, it analyzes data from a car’s sensors to try to “learn” a person’s driving habits, then gives advice on how to boost mpg.

Fuel Economy Coach grades drivers’ acceleration, braking, and speed. It also measures idle times and encourages drivers to maintain their cars. It’s currently in closed beta testing for android, with an iOS version coming soon.

App development contests are becoming a popular way to harness the massive amounts of data recorded by modern cars. The hundreds of sensors that monitor everything from fuel pressure to steering angle already power systems like stability control and all-wheel drive, but now they’re being used to change driving without a major tech breakthrough.

At the recent New York Auto Show, Ford announced the Personalized Fuel Efficiency Apps Challenge, which will award $50,000 to the app that can give the most useful fuel economy readings. Ford is leveraging its Open XC architecture, which was made available to developers in the DOE challenge and allows apps to “talk” to a car’s sensors, to make this happen.

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