TAMPA — Smartphone apps that aid in reporting crimes are nothing new, but the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is pushing the technology in a new direction with an app meant to provide real-time traffic and weather reports.
The Audio Traffic Hillsborough app, unveiled Thursday, stems from a collaboration with the app's creator, West Palm Beach-based Audible Media Group.
The technology debuted a month ago but was officially rolled out at a news conference where company executives offered reporters a demonstration of its audible traffic reports. The app is for Apple and Android mobile phones and tablets.
"I think what we love most about the application is it's voice-operated," Maj. Chad Chronister said. "You press a button and the rest of it you hear by voice, which means there's not one more thing to contribute to distracted driving."
Similar to radio traffic reports, Audible reports local traffic conditions, including any event "that could hinder traffic around the county," president Jeffrey Kottkamp said.
"There's nothing like it. You won't have to wait a half-hour for the traffic report," typical of many radio news cycles, he said.
Kottkamp, who was lieutenant governor under Charlie Crist, said the aim is to offer traffic information that does not require hands-on searching on mobile devices.
The company debuted its first mobile apps in June in Palm Beach County and in August in Jacksonville. Next, it's eyeing a collaboration with Miami law enforcement and early next year plans to develop an app with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, he said.
The download is free and came at no cost to the Hillsborough agency. Similar to radio, the company derives revenue from advertising sales. At the sheriff's end, officials said they hope the app offers another bridge to residents. Hillsborough unveiled an app two months ago to report crimes. Tampa rolled out a similar app about a year ago.
"This really was a no-brainer to us," Chronister said of the Audible Media app. "Anything that provides up-to-date information that's helpful to the public, Sheriff (David) Gee is for."
Roger Koch, the company's chief executive, said it employs three reporters in Tampa working separate shifts from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. At some point, it might expand to later hours and possibly weekends. Eventually, it might also provide users with customized reports, such as targeting traffic on the Howard Frankland or the Veterans Expressway.
"That's something we're looking at," Koch said.
Traffic remains the focus of its programming, though reporters are free to air stories about significant crimes, weather issues or other events affecting travel across Hillsborough.
In addition to chronicling conditions on county roads, the reports also touch on traffic on city and state highways — "anywhere in Hillsborough and on the bridges," Koch said.
Contact Rich Shopes at email@example.com. Follow @richshopes.