Edit (22MAY23): smartCARS 3 is now available for sale in open beta! To learn more, visit the product page.
smartCARS has been at the core of TFDi Design's product lineup since 2012. As of a few weeks ago, smartCARS version 3 is officially in beta. This is a big moment for us and I want to take a few minutes to share some history and details about it.
smartCARS 1 was our first commercial application and although we have certainly outgrown it, we're proud of where we come from. It started, initially, as a bespoke application for colleagues we knew at the time. We changed how things were done (allowed multiple bids, added a real live-chat, etc.) and really tried to build a better user experience than what was available at the time.
Below is the extremely old smartCARS 1 release video.
We soon realized that smartCARS had the potential to be much more than a one-off contract. It seems we were right, because smartCARS became relatively popular in the virtual airline world not too long after.
Enter smartCARS 2
smartCARS worked well for its intened purpose but it was obvious that we had a lot of headroom to expand. We wanted to allow more customization, add more detail to the logs, and give pilots a more rewarding experience. And so, we set out on smartCARS 2. We supercharged the code and user interface and created the next iteration of what was quickly becoming a staple of the virtual airline software world.
The release trailer for smartCARS 2 is below.
Fun fact: the music in the smartCARS 2 release trailer is actually a remix of one of my own songs.
Further to the additions to the base application, we introduced smartCARS Premium. This is a pilot-based subscription that adds further features to user experience. This allowed us to create more specific and advanced features heavily geared toward the pilot, instead of the VA, as the pilot could also now be a customer. Premium included cloud flight backups that could survive even a complete PC shutoff, a mobile app that let you bring the flight with you, and some additional features (like dark mode) that weren't industry standard yet (at the time).
The Quiet Years
After smartCARS 2, we started focusing heavily on development of the TFDi Design 717. This took us quite some time, as did the application we followed it up with, PACX. With that said, we were still cooking up ideas for smartCARS.
We collected user reports, our own ideas, and frequently discussed ways we could take smartCARS to the next level. As it soared to heights way beyond what we originally expected with over 1,000 licenses issued, we knew we had to follow up smartCARS 2 with something impressive. As we continued collecting ideas, one thing was clear: we had the core concept right but it was time to let others add to it as well.
As a company, we have also focused heavily on efficiency and modularity. These concepts worked together as we designed a system that would allow others to add meaningful, important functionality at their discretion.
Despite all of this interest and thought, it would somehow be many years until we broke ground on smartCARS 3.
In 2020, we started on what would eventually become the smartCARS 3 that recently entered beta. We had some new team members to bring in new ideas, a fresh mindset for having had such a break, and a whole new world of technology to explore.
We picked a web-based system (Electron) that would let us write simpler, platform-agnostic code. We developed frameworks and SDKs to allow plugins to add entirely new pages and features, or critical but invisible background functionaliy, to smartCARS. The unique thing about smartCARS 3 is that we wrote the flight tracking, chat, logbook, and flight center code using our own plugin API.
This is significant because that means our plugin API really works. It will actually let community developers add meaningful content, whether specific and private to their VA, or something for the community to use.
We took a great deal of care to improve the experience massively. A few highlights of these changes are:
- Single installation across all VAs without losing the customization (meaning you no longer had to install multiple copies of smartCARS for multiple VAs)
- Resizable, massively improved user interface
- Complete customization and extensibility via plugins and web APIs
- simBrief integration
- Overhauled map with ATC and online network support
- Massively improved and scriptable flight tracking (each VA can customize exactly what is logged and how)
- Overhauled chat experience that is more conducive to a friendly community message-board style conversation
- Improved PIREP viewer with real over-the-ground route plotting
- And too many minor but noticeable improvements to list
Some images showing this are below.
The idea for us is to make smartCARS 3 a platform, not simply another version of the program. We want to let others build and expand on the features they need without having to reinvent the wheel. We want to bring a compelling mobile experience and unbeatable Premium features (more on that another day) that'll serve the community for years to come.
smartCARS is near and dear to many of our hearts and we couldn't be prouder of where it's headed. Thank you for reading and thank you to the community for your feedback and support over the years. The wait is almost over; the smartCARS journey will continue.