Thomas Robillard is on a mission to make our smartphones part of our cars — and he wants to do it with the sort of aftermarket stereo replacement process familiar to anyone who’s ever swapped out their car’s tape deck.
His Madison-based startup, Vehroot, plans to sell “The Shelf,” a piece of hardware that would replace a car’s CD player or dashboard screen, instead securely holding a cell phone or tablet and connecting it via Bluetooth to the car’s computer and stereo without using a separate infotainment computer. The shelf, which is currently operating in a handful of cars in the Madison area, offers wired and wireless charging and has a strip of nine buttons to control the phone without touching the screen. The product would retail for $399, with installation bringing the total cost to about $500.
Given how many cars now come with their own software or tools like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for in-car listening or navigation, improving vehicle technology with an aftermarket product may seem counterintuitive. But Robillard argues that drivers often opt to use their phones while driving anyway because phone software is familiar and more advanced than the software built into cars.
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