How to Hack the Connected Car (Guest Post)

Greetings boys and girls. We've asked a local tinkerer and leader of college mobile group, UTA Mobi to share his vision on the future of the connected car.

James is an especially gifted computer engineer student at UT-Arlington in Texas. He's mobile developer experienced with web frameworks, iOS, Android, Windows, embedded circuits and programming. He loves to make and hack in the IoT space; especially the connected car.

We've also recorded a podcast with James which you can find below. Without further ado, please welcome James Staud, Vinli's first guest blogger.

Listen to more great guests HERE or download the episode HERE. Keep an eye or ear out for our launch in the iTunes store.

"How To Hack the ConnectedCar"

Hi, I'm James Staud and I'm originally from Fort Worth, Texas and was raised in the area. My family relocated multiple times in Europe and in Asia and spent the longest time outside of the USA (three years) in South Korea where my father worked in the US Air Force on F-16 avionics before moving on to work in the private sector for various defense companies.

Growing up, I found my creative inspiration from my father who was always looking for new ways to approach problems in his work and in daily life. My father spent some time during his Air Force service attempting to build a car in the same way that jet fighters were made. He saw the engineering innovations that were put into the F-16 in his daily work and knew that eventually we would all be driving cars made in a similar way. He constructed the frame and body from fiberglass and was planning to control the vehicle with a joystick similar to that in the F-16. Although he never finished the car, the project later inspired me to look for creative solutions to everyday problems using the newest technologies.

After graduating high school, I wanted to build and design things that would be influential and attended the University of Texas Arlington as a computer engineering student as a result. While in school I joined the student mobile development club, Mobi, following my junior year and soon after was elected president.

I like to describe Mobi as an opportunity for the students at UTA to learn what new frameworks, hardware, software, and languages are important to become familiar with. Mobi is a social platform for students to gain experience developing apps and building/working-with smart devices. The group builds new apps every year and does so using real software development practices in development life cycles, architectural patterns, version control, and design.

As the president, I am still very active with Mobi and am always looking for ways to introduce new technologies to the students at UTA who realize that you need more to be successful than just a degree.

With fellow Mobi members, I pulled together a team of developers to tackle the North Texas Apps Challenge in Fall of 2014; ultimately winning $10K in prize money, startup connections and mentoring. Our initial team of seven split up to tackle three separate challenges within the competition to increase their odds of winning. At the end of the competition, the three teams presente three different products:
Vert, a gamification app to encourage recycling and a smart dumpster system; Liza, a gamification app to reduce water consumption and a smart water meter; and GridLock, a full-stack app and API platform that enables customers to monitor and control traffic lights and track traffic in real-time allowing them to automatically adjust traffic light schedules, all while proposing its own algorithms to combat traffic jams and enhance traffic lights timers through the means of machines learning and real-time data models.

A week after pitching these products to a panel of judges the app that took home the $10,000 check for the IoT category was GridLock. I worked with two other people on this project, Zedd Shmais and Nhat Tran. Following the win, we decided to take GridLock to the next level and to turn it into a business. We are currently looking for investment in our prototype and couldn't be more excited to make this traffic solution available to the public mid year.

Although I was building for the IoT category, I had a special interest in the connected car space. The market is huge and ripe for people (like our team at GridLock) to start building great apps that help people connect better with their vehicles and all other aspects of daily life. This massive market potential is being realized by companies like Vinli, Google, and Apple. They are all pushing their platforms to be used in the car while allowing developers to launch apps on their platforms. As a developer, I am already trying to find ways to be creative with apps in this field.

And with the new Android Wear and Apple iWatch in the market I fully intend to see much more opportunity for connecting things. We're already seeing companies developing hardware to make the connected home a possibility for everyone. There are so many smart hubs/spaces for developers just begging for some slick applications to be built for their software. Even Nest bought Revolv (see article here) to get their developers on board to develop for their “Works With Nest” platform. The big IoT markets right now will be healthcare, retail, home, and connected car, but I believe the home market is narrowing so getting into the connected car world right now seems like the right idea.

Now, if you can figure out a useful way to tie all of these connected devices together you’d have a great product. The tricky part is to keep your application from interering with a user's daily life. With no intention of being sneaky, it should be build with a specific standard to make the content so accessible to the user that it’s like there is no app at all. One may argue that this goes against marketing effectively marketing your app, but if you can provide benefits to the user with minimal to no effort, your app stands to find huge traction both in and outside the vehicle. Now go out there and make something awesome in the connected world! I will be.

Soon after the win, I married Mary (thank goodness for that check!) and remained living in Fort Worth. I'm currently working for the University of Texas at Arlington as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Heracleia Human-Centered Computing Laboratory and working part time as an intern at Black Optex, a service disabled veteran owned small business that combines years of operational experience with the latest designs, materials, and technologies to produce unique visual augmentation solutions for daytime, low light and no light environments.

Along with these projects I am involved with other startups/projects as I draw closer to completing my senior year at UTA. As you can tell, I am ver involved in the connected car and maker/hacker space. I am always looking for new ways to bring connectivity and automation to daily life, especially in my vehicle, a classy early 2000’s Toyota Corolla.


Find James on the UTA campus or at the UTA Mobi hangout, Twitter, G+ or