Aha Radio: Traffic, News and Social Media, Out Loud

Mobile applications are often blamed when behind-the-wheel multitaskers put fellow drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians at risk, but some apps are intended to keep drivers’ attention on the road and away from their phones. Launched last summer to deliver real-time traffic reports as audio rather than text, Aha Mobile’s newly revised mobile application includes news, podcasts, social media streams, and information about nearby businesses, with minimal finger gestures and onscreen reading required in an effort to ensure the safety of both drivers and the people around them.

Aha wants consumers to construct their own stations at home, not in the driver’s seat — in fact, there are some tasks the app won’t perform when it senses that you’re cruising down the highway. The Aha Radio app’s channels include real-time, location-based traffic information that can be customized for a specific commute, tweets and Facebook status updates, restaurant data culled from Yelp, and news from NPR and Fox -– all read aloud, often by a robotic “cyber-human.” Users can also contribute to the service by notifying fellow drivers about car wrecks or other developments via brief voice memos; there’s also a somewhat silly “caraoke” channel of people singing along to their radios. The company’s first app is available free of charge for the iPhone (S aapl), and CEO Robert Acker says an Android (s goog) app is likely later this year.

Aha pays for very little of its content, save for a contract with Inrix that delivers traffic data; the rest comes from existing APIs. Acker said Aha is still pre-revenue, although it expects to add 10-second advertisements “after 2010.” What’s more, he said he envisions Aha as a platform company that expects to work with carmakers as they develop in-dash or steering wheel controls that will allow drivers to operate or manipulate apps remotely, without handling their smartphones –- and eventually enabling them to do away with phone and apps completely while driving. That’s the model Pandora’s Tom Conrad described to me last fall, in advance of that company’s fruitful CES trade show in Las Vegas last month.

Acker said Aha won’t be offering a music channel, although it may seek to syndicate its customizable content streams into existing mobile music services, so that a user can switch to a non-music channel for traffic reports or other data (just as a driver might tune in an all-news terrestrial AM station for a few minutes after listening to FM music for awhile). The company could also add driving directions or other services, as well as premium information for which it could charge money.

Venrock led Aha’s $3 million Series A round last year, and Acker said the company is aiming to complete a second round in the coming months.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Location: The Epicenter of Mobile Innovation