Carpool the smarter way: Use the internet

Earlier this month, tons of technology companies gathered in San Diego at DEMO to debut a plethora of cool new products. Being a self-professed geek -- and a penny pincher -- I was excited to see a new program called Avego, which was demoed by Mapflow and put an interesting spin on carpooling.

We all have a rough idea of how traditional carpooling works in the US. An area where it is weak is that for the most part you are only carpooling with people you know rather than individuals who are going the same route as you.

Avego turns this model on its head and uses real time location data and cell phones to find other riders who want to be part of the route you are currently taking. For example, you could advertise an opening on the way to work in the morning and another person halfway there may ask to join your carpool for that trip only. These same kinds of interactions occur whenever you take a trip be it to the grocery store, movies or wherever.

Avego isn't just looking to change carpooling, but also human behavior by trying to get people to start sharing rides and also sharing them with a stranger, no small task on any front. It seems it has thought this through and it's using two of the best motivators currently at its disposal; the desire for many people to go green and the desire of more people to earn green! To facilitate the ride sharing Avego charges the rider 30 cents per mile, an amount cheaper than driving on their own or grabbing a taxi, and then pays the driver about 85% of that for the trip, thus providing motivation for all of the involved parties.

I think this is a cool new way to do carpooling but there are definitely some obstacles to overcome in getting drivers to open up their vehicles to strangers even with the monetary incentives. The service does let users specify rider preferences based on gender and on the ratings that drivers and riders leave for each other at the end of each trip, which may help some users get over the hurdle of picking up a rider.

Avego isn't available quite yet, but will eventually be offering free software via the iTunes App store. As far as usability goes, until the user base reaches critical mass the services offered by Avego will be limited in their usefulness to many people since a broad base of riders and drivers is needed for the system to succeed. I'm excited to see where technology like this goes and I am glad to see that the leaders of the company realize these hurdles they face.

You ca check out a cool demonstration of how Avego works below. If I find myself in Bay area anytime soon I'll have to get a first hand look at this!

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