Are we there yet?

by Dries De Roeck on July 28, 2017

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were preparing for our yearly drive to the Austrian mountains. I have been going to Austria since I was 9 years old, and have kept going back (to the same place) ever since. Arriving over there feels like arriving home, and usually results in a big family reunion. We sometimes go in winter for skiing, and sometimes we go in summer for sun, water and walks.

Since our oldest daughter was born, about 6 years ago, we have been making the most out of the 900+ km drive there and back. This usually comes down to a big stack of CD’s with (mostly) parent-friendly children’s stories and music (this year’s favourites were Kapitein Winokio, Kabouter Korsakov, Ketnet Unidamu and Jelle Cleymans). We refrain from having screens in the car, and since both of our children get car sick quite easily there’s not a lot of difficulty in doing that.

Apart from our approach to car entertainment, a question which keeps coming back is:

are we there yet?


how long until we get there?

or one of the 1000’s of other variations, which shouldn’t be too surprising if you have ever driven more than 15 minutes with children in the car.

When we were planning this year’s drive, we were looking for ways to engage our children more, find a way for them to understand better that we really had to sit in the car for a whole day, and that Austria was a little further away than a neighbouring town.

In the past, we tried showing them a paper map or making a list of all major cities we had to pass, which we would tick off when we passed them. This was interesting for us, as grown ups, but made little sense in our children’s brain. Perhaps our oldest daughter would start to understand what maps are about, but our youngest (4 y/o) has no clue at all.

So this year, we landed on a new concept – an idea that sparked in my wife’s mind and was developed further. The fundamental idea is really simple, but since we figured it has so much potential and possibilities to be interpreted in other ways – it makes sense to elaborate a bit.

Are we there yet? (AWTY)

The general idea is to visualise your car’s position on a ‘timeline’ indicating distance. So one end of the line is ‘home’ and the other end is ‘arrival’. This visualisation should be present at all times in the car, and updated frequently (ideally by the person in the passenger seat).

Starting position, as seen from the back seat. Indicator is at the left hand side (0km). Each marker represents 100km in this example.


As the journey progresses, the indicator moves. Everyone in the car can see which distance has been covered and which distance is still to go.


As you get closer to your destination, it is visually clear to everyone in the car that you are indeed getting closer, but that there is still some distance to go. You can use visual markers to indicate each section (eg. every 100km), or place a marker at the halfway point etc.

Let’s try this.

This seemed like a good idea. Obviously, I was thinking about making a device that could be connected to the satnav system and show the car’s position on an RGB led strip. Enter my wife, who decided to go low fidelity first – and put up a piece of string in our car. The indicator we used to try this out was a clothes peg.

We added little pieces of coloured tape as a way to indicate every 100km. My wife would move the clothes peg every so many kilometers, based on the ‘distance to destination’ on our car’s satnav system.

Our test results

Overall, it was great! We didn’t really know whether our 4 year old would ‘get it’ – but being able to tell her that there’s still this much ‘string’ to cover and that we already covered this other amount seemed to ease her mind during the drive.

We did notice that when you get closer to the destination, it would make more sense to have a more fine grained way to illustrate the distance to go. Perhaps it would make the distance scale used logarithmic instead of linear. In that case, the clothes peg could move more clearly in the last 100 – 200 kilometers.

Couldn’t you just make an app, like on long distance flights?

What was important for us was to have a ‘glanceable’ interface, which made sense for everyone in the car. Although that this could probably be achieved with some kind of screen based device, using a smartphone or tablet app, our goal was to have something that would be present at all times, would not cry for attention and would be easy enough to understand for ages 4 and up.

Also, when making this prototype, we figured this needed to be a ‘social’ thing – something that could be experienced with the family together and not an individual something. Having this in the car as a ‘manual analogue’ device really helps in achieving this, as it is a physically tangible thing. Something you can point to and pull at.

Other possibilities

When making this, and experiencing it during a longer drive opened up a lot of opportunities. Here’s some of the current thinking (supposing that this would or could turn out to be a digitally connected device)

Waze integration: get a feel for traffic or other events on your route Driving with friends: see you friends on the same route Pre-planned events: based on POI data the route could be ‘gamified’ – eg: find a big tower at this location.


On our way back home, we tested one of these ideas. My parents were driving home too on the same day, but set out to leave later. We added a second indicator (a hair clip this time) to our piece of string and asked my parents to update their distance-to-arrival every so often. This turned out to be fun, just to have a feel for where they were. At one point they were in heavy traffic, they were not really advancing in any way. This got us to look up alternative routes for them, as we ‘felt’ a lot closer to what they were experiencing.

View from the back seat, at the start of our trip home. Our car is the clothes peg, my parent’s car is represented by the yellow hair pin.


Will this ever become a product, I don’t know. We could probably make a digital prototype out of this at some point – the question we’re asking ourselves if it’s really worth it to do so … the manual analogue version didn’t work too shabby either to be honest ^^

It would be nice to know if this idea resonates with anyone reading this. Feel free to think along!

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Are we there yet? by Are we there yet concept is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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