My first LeCab experience and why we need to properly connect drivers to the internet

After taking 3 flights over more than 24 hours, I arrived in Paris and needed to get from the airport, to the accommodation, around 45 minutes away. This was...

After taking 3 flights over more than 24 hours, I arrived in Paris and needed to get from the airport, to the accommodation, around 45 minutes away. This was to be my first LeCab experience.

LeCab is the French version of Uber (who are also here) and I was picked up by a new, clean, black 2016 Peugeot 508 Allure. The driver had removed the headrest of the passenger seat to allow passengers like me in the back, a better view through the front windscreen. As this was my first time to France, this allowed me to snap some photos and video that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

The driver wasn’t a chatty guy, but to be honest, I wasn’t up for a big chat and maybe he sensed that. After a couple of minutes of silence, I thought it was time for some music, so asked him to put some on. He indicated I could take care of the DJ role, using the iPad mounted to the rear of the seat ahead of me. Not only mounted, but a charging cable was run through the internals of the seat, smart, and I had access to charge my phone from rear USB ports.

This app, made by LeCab, had a number of services available to passengers. You could browse the web, choose a playlist – I assume the driver approved the playlists so his trips weren’t too painful, thankfully I found some in English. Yep, he heard probably more Ed Sherran than he wished for.

Maybe the most interesting part of the app was the photo section. This was plain and simple, you can access the camera, take a photo of yourself in the back seat. At first I thought, why would I ever want to do that? Then my mind was changed as I swiped through the dozens and dozens of other people who’d been in that seat before me. There’s no names, no stories, just photos, like a rudimentary version of Instagram. Amazingly there was nothing inappropriate there, just people enjoying themselves, from all walks of life on crazy journeys of their own.

I imagine the day the driver retires and has this amazing slideshow, collection of people he was able to help to their destination. I imagine this is the kind of thing seasoned taxi driver’s wish they had, sure they have stories, but no photos.

At the end of the trip, I was automatically presented with a rating scale. A simple 1 to 5 stars and 3 options. Unfortunately in the few weeks between learning I was coming to France and getting here, I didn’t learn a whole language, so had to guess my way though it. Options were No, N/A and Yes, in that order. I figured Yes indicated a good job/good service, so I went 3/3 for that.

Here’s where things get interesting. Built into the app, was the option to throw the driver a predefined tip amount (% of trip) where passengers could choose based on the service they received. Being from Australia, a country that doesn’t tip, this was a new decision, although I have taken Uber’s in the USA, but have never seen that option. I watched his phone (mounted on the dash) and there was no alert to him to notify the feedback had been submitted.

Overall the service was good, but there was one thing that concerned me. The driver picked up his phone (albeit for a short period of time) during the trip. It wasn’t long enough for me to ask him to stop and to be honest, he looked like he’d done enough of it that it didn’t interrupt his driving. No lane drift, or missing safe braking points, so checking his calendar seemed tolerable.

This raises that familiar question about driver distraction and it looks alive and well in Paris, France, as it is at home in Australia. During my 45 minute trip, I seem dozens and dozens of driver’s using their phones while driving.

I’m keen to hear this week at #VivaTech if any startups have real, practical, scalable solutions to this problem. Personally I think it’ll be solved when we stop pretending we can prevent people from being connected on the road. That has clearly been proven wrong. When people are essentially prepared to put their own lives and the lives of others at risk to stay up to date, our desire and addiction to interact with the world at all times (even driving) is here to stay.

I think the real answer is voice, but it has to be fundamentally different to what we have now with Siri and Google Now. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve yelled at my phone (in my cup holder) ‘Ok Google’ only to have no response. In a 12yo car, the noise inside the cabin overwhelms the sound of my voice at a distance. We need noise cancelling technology and microphone arrays that are found in products like Amazon’s Alexa, but in our cars, and yesterday.

The car version not only needs to hear and understand your commands, but needs to read your text messgaes, emails, Facebook posts from friends, Instagram likes, Snapchat posts and any other social network you try and check while driving. Of course there’s infotainment systems in new cars that deal with calls and maybe sms, but our lives online extend so much further than that in 2017 and unless we can be connected and drive, we’ll try and drive and connect ourselves.

The challenge becomes how you configure driver alerts in a fast and easy way and not burdening users with a per-app option screen. of course you may try and bounce off the current notification setup, but maybe that needs to be different during a drive, so this is perhaps the biggest user experience challenge that exists, so difficult that nobody has solved it yet.

Of course the lifespan of a solution has limited life, given driverless cars are the real answer here, then passengers can be relieved of their duties and do whatever they like on their phones.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.