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Brazilian cab passengers benefiting from connectivity via Samsung tablet-based Multitoky Mobile

by Roger Lanctot | Mar 17, 2013

Returning to Brazil for the first time in a few months I was struck at the paucity of technology in the taxi cabs. Having recently been at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas I was accustomed to everything from smartphones and GPS devices to cameras, sensors, backseat advertising displays, and payment terminals in cabs. Suddenly, in the land of the vehicle immobilization mandate (Contran 245) I was confronted cab after cab with nothing but a dispatcher and fare machine.

That is, until yesterday in my cab ride from Garulhos Airport in Sao Paulo.  According to the driver, the taxi that took me and my wife to our hotel was part of a 500-cab trial of a backseat tourist aid that was a real revelation and nothing I had seen anywhere before.

Put together by a local company, Comtecno, for the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism (and also available in Recife, where the World Cup with be contested), the device was a Samsung tablet computer equipped with cellular connectivity.  Comtecno calls the device the Multitoky Mobile and the company has as its goal deployment at 14 Brazilian airports for a total of 12,000 devices.

The tablet was unobtrusively strapped to the back of the cab driver’s seat, and I wouldn’t have noticed except for the fact that I am on the constant lookout for in-car tech.  The device charges while in the pouch and its use requires no assistance from the driver.

I immediately grabbed the device, figured how to open the browser and accessed a couple of email accounts.  Before long my wife and I were checking out local tourist attractions and restaurants and peppering the driver with questions.

“Do people like it?”

“Yes.”

“Do you ever use it yourself?”

“Yes.”

“How do passengers use it?”

“To help tell me their destination.”

“Do customers have any complaints?”

“The connection is slow.”

“Will it play video and audio?”

“Yes.”

With only 500 cabs as part of the test it was not surprising that the only overt advertising on the device appeared to be public service announcements warning tourists against sex tourism and people trafficking.  Coming in to Sao Paulo one could imagine a few more pointed warnings, but overall the device was a true joy to discover in the rear seat of our cab and a promise of future innovations to come.

Given the relatively high crime rate and the country’s position as have the third highest number of highway fatalities, one could argue for the implementation of cameras for anti-theft and fraud, along with sensors for maintaining vehicle distance in traffic.  But, generally speaking, the cab drivers are some of the best drivers in Brazil.  (A good contrast is China where there is little respect for lanes, let alone other vehicles.)

But if a Samsung tablet in the rear seat – tethered by a security link – is a first step on the path to vehicle connectivity in Brazilian taxi cabs, it is highly welcome.  It is far superior to the annoying embedded backseat advertising displays found in Las Vegas, New York City and Shanghai, among other cities. 

The rotating messages on these backseat screens are entirely without any merit as far as helping to educate either visitors or locals regarding popular local businesses or for providing informational traveler alerts.  Anyone who attended CES in Las Vegas is likely sick and tired of hearing Steve Wynn tout his gambling properties – a fact reflected in the reflexive tendency of most cab drivers to try to at least turn off the volume on the device even if they could not stop the video.

Kudos to Comtecno and the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism and the for conceiving a creative solution for connecting with tourists.  The next step will be to enable all types of transactions, including perhaps paying cab fares.  Of course, Brazilian cab drivers are still talking on their mobile phones too much and, occasionally, watching video both while parked and driving.  Oh, well, they can’t get everything right all at once.

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