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5 killer apps for autonomous cars
Noah Waldman

Noah Waldman

From the time businesses started buying Apple II computers just to run VisiCalc, the power of the “killer app" has been undeniable.

While mostly homogenized app ecosystems and largely browser-based activities like social media have dulled the concept of the killer app outside of console-exclusive video games, autonomous vehicles open a new market where the killer app could once again prove to be the determining factor for a buyer in the autonomous car market.

As Elon Musk and Tesla have recently demonstrated, they're already working on features that separate their cars from the pack. One such feature will let you summon your Tesla vehicle to your location for easy pick-up from parking lots. Reactions to the early tests revealed that this app…isn't quite there yet, which gives all the developers out there a little more runway to get started on their own apps. Here's six we'd like to see:

Honey, I'm home!

Cars aren't the only large appliance becoming smarter. Ovens, refrigerators, air conditioners, and more are quickly becoming nodes in the IoT ecosystem, and they should connect with your autonomous car as well. While many of these appliances can already be controlled remotely, it would be more efficient if your car could tell your smart appliances to start pre-heating the oven or turn on the AC once you've passed through a geo-fence around your house. This app should also automatically turn everything off and lock the door once it senses that you're off on your next adventure.

Smart Homes

A few creative firms and car companies are already working together to bridge the sensors already in connected cars to smart home appliances through voice assistant's like Amazon's Alexa.

Calendar integration

Furthermore, there's no reason you should have to tell your car when and where to go every day. Tesla already has an app that lets you synch your calendar to your car, but we imagine this could go further. A future version of this app could populate and pre-program times and routes in advance so that there would truly be nothing between “get-up" and “go." In addition, your car should be able to alert you if you schedule events without giving yourself enough time for transportation, and push notifications of when you should leave to make it to things on time. And when you get into the car, it could give you your day's itinerary, just in case you forgot how full your plate was. All the benefits of having a chauffeur, none of the awkwardness of off-loading your life onto another human being.

Autonomous shopping & delivery

Autonomous cars also have the potential to flip how online shopping works on its head. While delivery companies are already planning for autonomous fleets, private autonomous car ownership offers it's own possibilities. Imagine if, after placing an order online, your car starts driving to the grocery store/retailer/distribution center for automatic pick-up. Your car could essentially do the shopping for you, and without the need to sign for packages, you never have to worry about scheduling a day off to wait at home for a delivery that may never even show. You could send your car out to pick up groceries for you and your friends, or just for your morning coffee.

Autonomous Delivery Vans

Wine, dine, & drive

On a first date with someone you really want to impress, but don't know where to take them? Your car should know all the best spots in the city and how to get there. Information updated in real time could also let you know when a movie showtime is almost sold out, or how long you could expect to wait to get seats at a restaurant. An app that would let users input an activity, price-range, preferred distance, and other parameters to determine the perfect date night would be a huge sell for thousands of singles. It would also be a great way to find the best local spots in an unfamiliar city so you can treat yourself to a night on whatever town you find yourself in.

Rock-a-bye, baby

And if that first date should go super well, you may find yourself a few years down the line with a child that can only get a full night's rest if put to sleep by the gentle motions of a car ride. Or maybe you're a fully grown adult who's tried melatonin, ASMR, and meditation to no avail, and needs a long car ride to knock you out for the night. There have already been a few viral stories about people falling asleep in semi-autonomous vehicles. Rather than try to fight against this trend, autonomous car and app developers should embrace it with an app that could find the calmest possible road to lull the little one (or you) to sleep.

Return of the drive-in

We're not the first to suggest that no longer having to pay attention to the road means autonomous car users would be able to pay attention to entertainment – but we also think that any entertainment is enhanced when you do it with other people. Ford has already patented an idea for an autonomous vehicle entertainment system, but we think this is just the beginning.

A better theater app should let you sync and share movies with your friends and family to create a real communal experience across cars whether parked in the same lot, or driving in different directions across the country. In addition, your personal movie pod could feature surround-sound through your car's speaker system, a screen projected from your windshield's HUD, and make use of heating, messaging, and other features found in luxury car seats for a full 4D theatrical experience!

For help programming any of these apps, or all of your own fantastic autonomous vehicle app ideas, we offer a number of products, APIs, and other resources for maps, tracking, mobility, and other location data through our Developer Portal.