Trapster: Crowdsourced Speed Trap Warnings

Anti-radar devices are hardly new, but Trapster’s mobile crowdsourced approach is a new way to warn drivers of speed traps ahead and other road conditions. This mobile approach recently netted the service their five millionth user.

Trapster works by having users spot traps and report them to the system. If additional users verify the same location, the point becomes “validated.” The Trapmap map on the Trapster site shows several types of enforcement points from across the world. These include: live police, known enforcement point, red light camera, speed camera, mobile speed camera, combo camera and checkpoint. Map icons come in various colors and shapes to show other information, such as road closures, dangerous spots, toll booths, accidents and more.

Clicking on a trap point icon will provide a popup that shows: (1) a list of users who reported the location and when, and the ability to send a PM (private message) to any of them; (2) a Google Street View, if applicable; (3) thumbs up and down icons; and (4) an expandable section that shows comments and any PMs you have received (log in first). Voting a trap up means you’re confirming what others have reported. Voting traps down mean that they’re not around anymore. Trapster’s system expires trap points after a certain amount of time, unless additional votes come in.

The Trapmap is integrated with Google Maps, so you can also see nearby traffic conditions simultaneously with speed traps. Other useful features include being alerted when you’re approaching a trap, which you can set to be audible or on vibrate or both, or turn off. (You have a fairly fine-grained control of push notifications for different types of map points.) The Patrol feature will help you find the safest path to your destination, including the ability to “configure your commute.” You can even select music from your “iPod” on your iPhone/ iPad via Trapster, to ease the trip home.

In addition to the obvious use of checking on speed traps, you can use the Trapster mobile app to record points on a road-trip, which can be shared with friends and family in real-time. If your Trapster friends are on the system, turning on the Caravan social networking feature lets you see where they are.

Trapster supports multiple mobile platforms, including five new ones added over the past year. Current smartphone platforms: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm webOS, Nokia, Windows Mobile, as well as other phones that support mobile Java/ J2ME. There’s also support for GPS devices, including Garmin and TomTom. Trapster says that the majority of their users are on the iPhone, and even has an iPad-specific version. The iPad version, which I tried briefly from my writing desk, offers a luxury of screen space to display the packed collection of features, though this might be an awkward form factor to work with while driving.

This app is useful for all drivers, leadfooted or not, and it’s free. No expensive standalone GPS devices to purchase if you already have a supported handset. How does the company monetize? Trapster’s Sean Farrell responded by email that they’re currently funded by private equity. He also mentioned that the app will always be free, though they will eventually monetize with premium features “such as skins, voices, and other customization options.”

As a fairly mobile person myself, I plan to use Trapster regularly. If you do too, just remember to be safe in your usage. This app might be the perfect accompaniment to the Field Agent iPhone app that we wrote about yesterday, to help you plan your about-town tasks.