Despite energy costs rising steadily, it's still very common to see people driving their cars alone, particularly in big cities. The OpenRide mobile service recently presented at the IFA exhibit in Berlin is a simple but effective idea that aims to save money while reducing our carbon footprint by providing an open infrastructure for organizing carpooling in a quick and convenient way.

The project, currently being developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS), is funded by the Germany ministry of economics and will allow users to employ a user-friendly application on their cellphones to easily find a ride nearby.

Users only need to select starting and finishing points, along with intermediate stops if required. The request, along with real-time data on the current position of the requesting user, is then sent to a dedicated server that quickly takes care of figuring out the closest match.

What makes the system more effective than conventional ride-sharing is the reduced time and much higher efficiency, as drivers are encouraged to offer lifts to people that are known to be heading in the same direction and may only be required to take quick detours to find their passengers. As possible rides are found, a message is sent to the requesting user's mobile phone with the name of the driver and estimated pickup and travel time.

Of course, one of the big questions that arises with similar schemes is safety. To address this issue, the FOKUS team is developing user profiles with a rating system to reinforce trust between the parties and make this traveling experience safer.

Finally, the OpenRide system is designed — like the name suggests — with an open architecture, allowing for the future integration with network operators and cellphone manufacturers that could feed more data into the system and make this infrastructure even more effective.

OpenRide is set to be launched on the market at large next year, while field trials with some partners are already planned for the end of 2009.

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