Drivetime nabs $11M from Makers Fund, Amazon and Google to build voice-based games for drivers

Totally autonomous vehicles may perhaps (or may perhaps not) be just about the corner, but in the meantime, a startup that’s developing in-car or truck apps to aid human drivers pass the time when behind the wheel has raised a round of funding.

Drivetime — which tends to make voice-primarily based trivia quizzes, games and interactive stories that people today can play when driving — has raised $11 million in funding led by Makers Fund (a prolific investor in gaming startups), with participation also from Amazon (by means of the Alexa Fund) and Google (by means of its Assistant investment system).

The startup right now has eight “channels” on its platform consisting of games and stories that you can access either inside a restricted no cost-to-play tier or by means of a paid subscription ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year). The strategy is to use the funding to continue expanding that catalog, as effectively as investing in deeper integrations with its new significant-name strategic investors, who themselves have longstanding and deep interests in bringing a lot more voice solutions and content material to the in-car or truck practical experience.

Co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori told TechCrunch that his ultimate ambition is for Drivetime to develop into “the Sirius XM of interactive content” for vehicles, with hundreds of distinct channels of content material.

In maintaining with these plans, along with the funding, Drivetime is right now announcing a important content material deal. It has teamed up with the extended-operating, well-liked gameshow Jeopardy to construct a trivia channel for the platform, which lets drivers test their personal abilities and also play against other drivers and people today they know. The Jeopardy channel will supply content material from the Television show’s trove of IP and come with a different familiar detail: it will be narrated by Alex Trebek, with a new quiz having published each and every weekday for premium customers.

That social element of the Jeopardy game is not a coincidence. The San Francisco-primarily based startup is founded by Zynga alums, with Vuori and his co-founders Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson also functioning collectively at a different startup named Rocket Games considering the fact that leaving the social games giant and exiting that as effectively, to gaming giant Penn National, for up to $170 million. The sturdy track record goes some way to explaining the sturdy list of investors in the new startup.

“Social and interactive formats are the next frontier in audio entertainment,” mentioned Makers Fund Founding Companion Jay Chi, in a statement. “Niko, Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson, with a decade-long history of working together and a proven track record in building new platforms, is the best team to bring this idea to life.”

In addition to the 3 investors in this newest round, prior to this Drivetime had raised about $4 million from backers that include Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb’s fund) and Access Ventures.

Vuori declined to say how quite a few installs or active customers the app has right now — despite the fact that from the appears of it on AppAnnie, it’s seeing decent if not blockbuster achievement so far. Meanwhile, Jeopardy is developing on what has worked very best so far. The most well-liked category at the moment is trivia, with Tunetime (a “name that tune” game) coming in second with storytelling a third.

The business’s premise is an exciting 1. Drivers are a captive audience, but 1 that has up to now had a comparatively restricted quantity of entertainment produced for it, focusing primarily on music and spoken word. Even so, the rise of voice-primarily based interfaces and interactivity utilizing organic language — spurred by the rise of individual assistant apps and in-property hubs like Amazon’s Echo — have opened a new chance, establishing interactive, voice-primarily based content material for drivers to engage with a lot more proactively.

You may assume that this sounds like a recipe for a car or truck accident. Won’t a driver get as well distracted attempting to try to remember the fourth President of the United States, or who was identified as the Father of the Constitution (hint: it’s the very same guy)? Vuori says it’s really the reverse: getting an interactive game that needs the driver to speak out loud can concentrate him or her and maintain the driver a lot more alert.

“We are double-dipping in safety,” he mentioned. “On the one hand, we embody the safety aspects of Alertness Maintaining Tasks (AMTs). But we also act as a preventative, meaning that while players engage with Drivetime, they are not engaging with anything else.”

Although the content material right now may perhaps serve as a way of maintaining drivers from carrying out factors they shouldn’t be carrying out when in a car or truck, there is a different clear chance that may come as drivers develop into significantly less vital and themselves will will need other factors to occupy themselves.

Longer term, the Jeopardy deal could usher in other channels primarily based on well-liked gameshows. Sony Photographs Tv Games, which owns the rights to it, also owns Wheel of Fortune, and Who Desires To Be a Millionaire.

“We are thrilled to work with Sony Pictures Television Games to bring JEOPARDY!®, the greatest game show on the planet, to an underserved audience that desperately needs interactive entertainment the most – the 110 million commuters in North America driving to and from work by themselves every day,” mentioned Vuori mentioned in a statement.

Interestingly, regardless of the development of “skills” for Alexa or apps for Google Residence and other property hubs, Vuori says that he hasn’t noticed any competitors emerge but from other app developers to construct voice-primarily based entertainment for drivers in the way that Drivetime has. That offers the business ample chance to continue selecting up new customers — and a lot more particulars with publishers and content material firms searching for a lot more mileage (sorry) for their legacy IP and new company.

“Drivetime is one of the early pioneers in creating safe, stimulating entertainment for drivers in the car,”; Ilya Gelfenbeyn, founding lead of the Google Assistant Investments Program, noted in a statement. “More and more people are using their voice to stay productive on the road, asking the Google Assistant on Android and iOS phones to help send text messages, make calls and access entertainment hands free. We share Drivetime’s vision, and look forward to working with their team to make the daily commute more enjoyable.”

“Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles,” mentioned Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon. “Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”