Go Ahead, Chat & Drive.

A look at what our insatiable desires to stay connected drives us to do, and a tool that helps us where we need it most.

Alex Yee
Alex Yee
Apr 24, 2015 · 5 min read

I know what you do in the car.

Our challenge:

How can we create a design that optimizes the experience of a distracted driver?

Currently, the majority of apps used while driving, disable people with tiny buttons and complicated features. Could our team build a product to empower more responsible practices of staying connected on-the-go? Or, at least make it a bit easier to use in the car, thus increasing safety? Introducing Chatbaka, your co-pilot on the road.

Chatbaka was inspired by the insane desire to stay connected to friends and family while driving.

Let’s face it, we spend hours compulsively connected online. The digital space has consumed our waking attention. The smartphone has become another appendage to our bodies. And yet, the moment we jump into our cars, we are suddenly disconnected.

Sure, guidelines state we shouldn’t touch our phones while behind the wheel, but 83% of adults report texting, talking, and app use while driving. 60% said they have been hit or nearly hit by someone on a cell phone, and 45% admitted to making a driving mistake while talking on a cell phone. 18% of 904 drivers surveyed said they “cannot resist the urge” to send or check messages while driving. Clearly safety guidelines and laws are not compelling enough to curb the urge to check our phones. Everyone is still touching their phones, and it’s time to stop ignoring these insatiable desires.

Chatbaka addresses an urgent need
that affects 80% of Americans driving every day.

Whether going to work, shopping, picking up kids, or meeting friends. We coordinate these journeys using chat, email, navigation, and calendars. It’s complicated and dangerous to jump back and forth between these tools, especially when driving, and let’s be honest, we all attempt it. The tools don’t work well together and are even more dangerous to use as we drive.

This means people can communicate, navigate, and meet up without the dangers of texting. Unlike Google Maps or Apple Maps, Chatbaka allows people to see their friends, send messages, receive messages, and meet up.

Ask a friend to come pick you up. Suggest a place for friends to meet. Let your spouse know you are on your way. Catch up with friends while you drive. Know when it’s time to pick up your kids. Share your location and when you will arrive. And best yet, your friends don’t have to have Chatbaka to benefit from the app. Messaging and coordination works across platforms through SMS and MMS texts.

No more switching between apps. Chatbaka lets you send voice messages to a group of friends while you navigate to your destination. How many of us launch maps, switch to messenger, switch back to maps, and then finally place our eyes back on the road? Texting while driving increases the risk of accidents by twenty-three percent. The Chatbaka team has tackled this problem with a hands-free solution. Simply wave to your phone to start recording, and wave again to stop. Send up to a 10-second message before the recorder auto-times out. This keeps your eyes on the road and the conversations flowing.

And it’s addicting– I’m not lying. I didn’t expect this product to be so fun on the road. I originally considered road tests as chores to QA the app, but instead found that Chatbaka has become my friend. I get so bored listening to the same old songs on the radio and find it frustrating to only be able to call one person at a time. With Chatbaka, I feel like I am getting more done, staying connected, and being safer. I can navigate to my destination and still be able to send quick snipbits to my friends who are also battling out their evening commutes.

As the Lead Interaction Designer and co-PM on the project, I can tell you the development process was lean, insightful, and oddly smooth. Chatbaka was developed by the Incubator team, comprised of 3 designers and 8 engineers. Our task was to bring the learned, agile process from our time in creating HopOver, into the new product, Chatbaka. Chatbaka is an alternative take on Scout, our current navigation product. We focused intently on curating the driving-communication experience from a people-first angle, and by fulfilling the strongest emotional voids. Through leveraging Telenav’s strengths– communication, navigation and mobility, we jumped ardently to integrate social connection. We believe that a bridge has yet to be built between navigation and the social sphere, which continues to inspire and motivate us to build a solid platform just for that.

It’s been a wild two and a half months and I’m thrilled to share this product with you. If you’d like to try our beta, please download Chatbaka on the App Store. We’d love to hear your feedback, and hope you have a blast with your new friendly co-pilot. Stay tuned Android users, we’re working hard to bring Chatbaka to you soon!

Thanks to Kiersten Lammerding.

Alex Yee

Written by

Alex Yee

Building products that connect people. Lead Interaction Designer @Telenav. Co-Founder of @AC_BizClub. @artcenteredu alum. @INSEAD alum.