AudioOdyssey: Protecting Long-Haul Truckers One Story at a Time
From your toothbrush to your car parts, 73% of all goods used in the United States are transported by the trucking industry – a fact that was not lost on Innovation in Action team AudioOdyssey. The team spent the last year building a platform designed to prevent drowsy driving accidents among truck drivers through engaging and interactive audio entertainment with the mission to stop accidents on the road and save lives.
Story by Lawryn Fellwock
Joe Huang, a recent graduate of the College of Engineering, has an unique view into this industry as the nephew of the director of a trucking company. “One of my best friends worked for my uncle’s company trucking to different states. He almost died one night, driving at 2am, from exhaustion…he was so traumatized he told me ‘I can’t do this anymore, I’m just going to quit’” shared Joe. Being away from home for weeks on end, driving long hours is too taxing and dangerous for many new drivers.
The interest in long-haul trucking was also sparked by teammate Adam Zhang’s personal experience. Adam, a recent graduate of the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts (LSA), was familiar with the stressors and challenges of driving cross-country to visit family in North Carolina. Adam recruited Zoe Drasner, an old friend and a recent graduate of the College of LSA, to join their team.
The team started the Innovation in Action journey with the plan to create an interactive audiobook app styled after the nostalgic Choose Your Own Adventure book series. The app would help drivers to stay alert by actively participating in the storyline of the audiobook via voice commands, rather than being a passive listener. Armed with this vision, Zoe, Adam, and Joe conducted the first round of stakeholder interviews at a nearby truck stop.
The team met with truckers at truck stops – many with their K9 companions – to learn more about the trucking industry, union, and the habits and interests of the drivers themselves. The most impactful takeaway from those initial interviews was that there is no way to prevent drowsy driving aside from sleeping more, so the team pivoted to preventing accidents by increasing alertness.
Each iteration of their product is met with more interviews at truck stops, “Another instance where we pivoted our solution was that our app originally had just the audiobook feature, once we heard from truck drivers, we added gaming and other features as well” said Zoe. The app now includes karaoke games, radio capabilities, among other options. Once the team learned that truckers struggle with loneliness as a result of being apart from loved ones so often, they added options for family and children to participate in creating stories or adding content for the truckers.
In addition to the valuable data gleaned from interviewing their stakeholders, the team learned more about themselves as a team. “Being friends first builds trust, shows commitment to each other and the process. Teams fall apart when people have varying degrees of care for the project, and we had already built that foundation of trust – that’s key.” shared Adam. The team agrees that trust and transparency are key to building an equally committed team.
On Friday, March 17th 2023, the AudioOdyssey team presented their design journey and solution to a panel of judges at the 2023 Innovation in Action Final Showcase. The team was awarded both First Place Award of $10,000 and Zell Lurie Institute’s “Most Maximized Team Strengths” Award $2,500.
In addition to the awards, the team was also admitted into the inaugural Innovation in Action Fellowship program for the 2023 Summer semester. The fellowship was created in an effort to support the continued development of IiA projects. As fellows, AudiOddyssey will meet with IiA mentors regularly and work to develop, plan and implement an innovative pilot. Following the eight week program, the team will continue to address drowsy driving among long-haul truckers.
Watch AudioOdyssey’s Final Presentation. All inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.