Usually, presenters at confabs like Wednesday’s Columbia TechBreakfast are quick to say that they’re not going to reinvent the wheel. But a former NASA Commercial Space team leader stepped up and boldly went where no startup principal has likely gone before.
“We’re reinventing the wheel,” Gregor Hanuschak said.
For Hanuschak and his Ocean View, Del.-based company, Smack Innovations, the jargon is RITW technology, and the wheel that’s being reinvented is the steering wheel.
Armed with three patents (one issued, two pending), Hanuschak is aiming to provide a device that will enable drivers to access their smartphones from behind the wheel — even if the car doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth or other connectivity.
A smartphone controller built into a steering wheel cover that gives drivers something to do when they might be dozing off.
“The main thing people are asking for in their new cars — even before performance — is, ‘What are the connectivity features?'” he said.
To compensate, car companies are loading up steering wheels with features to accommodate smart phones. To help out all those owners of older cars, Hanuschak invented a device that can provide the same kind of tech specs for after-market models.
The RITW device, Hanuschak said, “is a smartphone controller built into a steering wheel cover.” It does not need to be installed internally, and can even fit on a big rig’s steering wheel. Once it’s slipped over the wheel, RITW connects to smartphones via Bluetooth. From there, apps will enable the color-coded buttons on the cover to dial up a variety of mobile phone functions.
That will allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the highway, and give drivers something to do when they might be susceptible to dozing off, Hanuschak said. With the first app, Hanuschak is also showing that it can enhance the experience of rocking out on the road.
While dictating correspodence for work and finding cheap eats may be some future functionalities, the lone app that Smack has released so far turns the steering wheel into a drum kit.
With Smack Attack, the touch sensors of the RITW send drum beats and cymbal crash sounds to the car speakers. You can even “add drum sounds to the music coming out of the car” from your smartphone’s music library or, with the help of an FM transmitter, the radio, Hanuschak said. In a touch that could make a jam soar to heights above Wayne and Garth’s Bohemian Rhapsody, anyone in the car who has the app can join in via their phone.
While it’s going over big at startup pitch events, Hanuschak has had even more success demonstrating the steering wheel skins at a key demographic indicator: Guitar Center.
Here’s a Smack-produced video that provides a full technical demonstration, with a few sweet fills on the side:-30-