In-ride entertainment

'Cash cab' rideshare tech company expands services to Houston and Austin

Houston and Austin rideshare riders might soon walk away with some earnings — or at least some entertainment. Photo via playoctopus.com

Your next Lyft or Uber ride might win you some money. An interactive advertising and entertainment platform that works in rideshares has announced it will expand to the Houston and Austin markets — just in time for SXSW.

Maryland-based Play Octopus has already received thousands of applications from rideshare drivers wanting the device in their vehicles, according to a press release. And expanding to Houston was an obvious move.

"As the leading rideshare advertising company in the country, expanding into Texas' ride-sharing scene is a necessary first step as we expand outside of the Northeast. Austin and Houston are both tech-driven cities that rely on rideshare for convenient transportation," says Cherian Thomas, the co-founder and CEO of Play Octopus. "Digital video consumption and rideshare are both at all-time highs, and for brands, Octopus provides the ability to reach millions of rideshare passengers on a monthly basis."

The company has recently seen success from partnerships with the likes of Disney, Red Bull, Tiffany & Co., Sprint, National Geographic, and Weight Watchers in major Northeastern cities. Houston and Austin are just the start of Octopus' 2019 growth plans.

The way it works is the company provides free tablets to qualified drivers. Tablets come with a monthly data plan, a mount, the cables required, and up to $100 a month — not to mention the perks — like tips and ratings — that come with providing riders a new option for ride entertainment. On the other side of the table, advertisers have access to millions of monthly riders and can use branding and geo-targeting ads.

The company launched the platform on the East Coast about a year ago and is already in over 7,000 vehicles generating almost 10 million engagements a month. Currently, Octopus is in New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; and Richmond, Virginia.

"Our national expansion is being fueled by our brand and agency partners, and further solidifies the Octopus platform as a key component to media plans," says Dillon Tedesco, the chief revenue officer of Play Octopus. "As we surpass the 10,000,000 monthly engagement milestone and introduce exciting new ways to interact with our tablets, we're looking forward to providing our clients with a deeper impact in more cities across the country."

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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