Vermont is one of 14 states that allow only hands-free cell phone use while driving, but it is still common to see drivers with a phone in one hand and the other hand on the wheel.
Terry Goguen, a Middlebury College senior, is working to discourage this kind of behavior with a new smartphone app that encourages users to put their phone away while driving.
There are already cell phone apps designed to keep people from texting while driving, but Goguen says they tend to concentrate on preventing bad behavior. His idea is an app that rewards good behavior.
“We want to make kids want to use it. We want to make adults [use it]. Adults are sometimes the worst culprits,” he says. “This will allow people to want to use it and have fun while doing it. We really try and gamify it.”
The app Goguen has developed is called JoyRyde. It works by tracking the user's distance and the length of time spent driving without texting or talking on their cell phone. Based on the data collected it rewards credits, which can be redeemed for products and discounts donated to charity.
The idea for JoyRyde came to Goguen last year when he was driving near his family’s home in Massachusetts and found himself wandering over the center line as he used his phone.
“It sparked the idea right there and then,” he says. “What if someone was incentivizing me not to use my phone? What if companies were offering me their products to do the right thing?”
To get JoyRyde off the ground, Geoguen and his business partner Annaclare Smith worked with professors at Middlebury and took a college class led by the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies. He also took advantage of the college’s business incubator center.
Goguen has spent months contacting highway safety groups and businesses. A number of merchants are currently offering products in exchange for credits earned by JoyRyde users.
In additional to individual users, Goguen hopes to attract institutional customers. A little out-the-window market research convinced him that any company with a fleet and drivers could benefit from JoyRyde.
“You would be amazed at how many people are on their phones,” he says, recalling a bus ride he took from Burlington to Boston. “You can look into truck drivers' cabs. It’s crazy to look at some of these guys on their phones driving these huge big rigs. What happens if we give this to every fleet across America?”
Goguen also plans to pitch a system to car insurance companies that would award discounts to drivers who rack up miles using JoyRyde.
He and Smith have won two business competitions, which, along with some angel investors, have provided them with operating capital.
One of the competitions was an annual event held by Shelburne-based Fresh Tracks Capital. Cairn Cross of Fresh Tracks says his group was impressed by Geoguen and his partner’s presentation, but making a business out of a free app that relies on both users embracing it and businesses paying to reach them is a challenge.
“The trick in putting something like this together successfully always comes down to is how do you satisfy all those different sides to the equation,” says Cross. “How does everybody get what they want out of it and is there something left over for the intermediary, the application provider, to actually make a living out of it?”
For his part Geoguen, a 23-year-old economics major who is also co-captain of the Middlebury College hockey team, says he plans to focus exclusively on JoyRyde once he graduates in the spring.
JoyRyde is poised to grow in the near term. Geoguen says he’s about to hire a full time developer to work on the app and hopes to soon add a business development person.
The app is still in the test phase, although anyone can download and use it. Geoguen says the app should be fully rolled out and publicly available by the end of the year.