BERLIN (Reuters) - Hitch-hikers have always used their thumbs to get a ride. Now a new invention aims to update the technique -- allowing mobile phone users to dial-a-driver.
The mobile ride-sharing service being developed by researchers in Germany combines internet and mobile technologies to match drivers to passengers for trips around town, without them having to arrange it long beforehand.
While traditional car sharing services require commuters to register routes in advance, the promoters of "OpenRide" say their product enables drivers to enter a destination on their mobile phone when they are already on the road.
A server tracks the vehicle's current location and scans for ride requests. If the software finds a match, the driver is notified and has the option of picking up passengers en route.
The driver and passenger negotiate a fare for the journey, typically covering fuel costs. The developers want to make it possible for passengers to rate drivers, to increase safety.
Online car sharing portals are already a popular way of commuting longer distances between towns and cities in Germany. Numerous websites allow drivers to advertise their journeys and the number of available seats in advance.
The industry has diversified in recent years, with platforms catering specifically for women as well as pet portals to transport four-legged friends.
Rising fuel and train ticket prices coupled with an increasing environmental awareness are all helping to boost its popularity.
Matthias Fluegge, project director at Berlin-based Fraunhofer Fokus research institute, behind "OpenRide," said it should be ready for market release in 2010.