Brand new UrbanCyclers platform is a suite of intelligent apps and services that facilitate urban cycling. Developers of Czech start up team Umotional deliver urban cyclists all relevant info they need to move around the city on bike safely and efficiently. What’s the point? We asked the head of the team Michal Jakob about the details.
Would you mind introducing your team to us?
The core team met at the Czech Technical University in Prague few years ago. I was a computer science associate professor doing research on artificial intelligence for transport, and the rest were students in various stages of their study. Since then, the students graduated (one of them – Jan Hrncir – has become the CTO) and we recruited additional collaborators to complement the team.
What is your project about? What do you focus on?
Our project is about using the latest technology to help cities and their citizens cycle more. We call our product the UrbanCyclers platform – a suite of intelligent apps and services that facilitate urban cycling. The core of the suite is the UrbanCyclers Navigator, a mobile app meant to be the urban cyclist’s ultimate smart assistant. We are taking the full advantage of the capabilities of modern smartphone to deliver urban cyclists all relevant info they need to know to move around the city on bike safely and efficiently. Besides the Navigator, the UrbanCyclers platform offers additional tools for cities and other business customers. There is the UrbanCyclers Analyst tool that helps cities analyze cycling data and identify bottlenecks in the cycling infrastructure. Then there is the UrbanCyclers Campaigner which allows cities, employers and health insurers run engaging cycling campaigns. All tools are integrated and play nicely with each other – which means more synergy and more people cycling.
Can you describe how it works and how it could help people to use their bikes for daily commuting? Or what is it good for?
As I said, the Navigator is supposed to be the urban cyclist’s smart companion. The core of the functionality is focused on routing and navigation. That’s because finding safe and convenient cycling routes through the urban jungle is a major issue for many, particularly in cities without comprehensive cycling networks (like Prague, but actually most of the cities around the world). So we help people find safe and convenient routes and then help them to actually follow the routes. For the latter, we actually use a novel kind of navigation that combines turn-by-turn instructions with the more relaxed forms of guidance popularised by the smart cycling gadgets that have recently sprung up.
The Navigator also includes information about bicycle parking, cycling shops and repair facilities and other points of interest to the cyclist. Very importantly, the Navigator has a range of social and gamification features. You can monitor your performance, compare it with others and even see live stats on the number of people cycling. The app also supports cycling campaigns and competitions. For example, if you take part in this year’s annual “Do práce na kole” competition, you can use the Navigator app to automatically track and upload your commute stats to your account. And then there is the one-tap feedback through which cyclists can report various issues they encounter on the road. Fellow cyclists can be alerted immediately, and we also make sure that the relevant authorities get notice.
It is a little similar to some solutions that already exist, isn’t it? Like Garmin and others?
Well, yes and no. True, there are navigation GPS units that also support bike routing but these are typically geared towards outdoor recreational and/or sport cycling. These units just don’t have the kind of information the urban cyclists want to see, and they are lacking the more advanced real-time features enabled by the always connected smartphone. There are some other decent cycling apps, but in our opinion none of them really can equal UrbanCyclers. One of the reasons why we are able to provide unique features is our extensive experience gained during university research on smart technology for transport and mobility.
That’s why we’ve managed to build what we believe is the world’s most advanced urban cycling routing app. Our app considers the widest possible range of factors affecting a cyclist’s route choice, which means top-quality routes. It is also the only intermodal cycling routing and navigation app – when your trip is longer, the app suggests where you can take your bike on a train / tram / subway to speed up your travel and/or avoid unpleasant areas. And there are plenty of other seemingly small but very useful features.
When will you be able to use it or see it? Is your goal to develop an app for smartphones, or is it going to be an app for another hardware?
We are working hard to launch the Navigator this spring on Android. The iOS version will come later. Initially, the app will support the Czech Republic, although the most advanced features (e.g. combination with public transport) will only work in selected cities. We aim to expand our coverage internationally shortly afterwards, depending on the response and also on the amount of funding we will manage to rise. We currently do not foresee building a dedicated HW product. That said, HW manufacturers can use our APIs and integrate our state-of-the-art routing and navigation capabilities in their products.
Why did you choose cycling as the object of your interest? Do you ride bikes yourselves?
Most of the team ride bikes, and not just for fun but as a means of transport. We have always been interested in sustainable urban mobility. We are not big fans of cars in the city. Biking is the right means of urban transport in the 21st century, and we want to make using bikes in the city as simple as possible!
You did a lot of research in Prague. Does the municipal authority cooperate with you? Did they provide any kind of support? Any feedback?
We live in Prague and know it best, so quite naturally we test our technology and products here first. But Prague is actually a great test site – its complex topography (river, hills) and fragmented cycling infrastructure makes finding good ways around a real challenge. So we are actually quite happy that we are not in the Netherlands where everything is flat and cycling-ready – that’s kind of boring 😉
What about other cities in other countries? Some other experiences?
Although there are some pretty advanced cycling countries and cities around Europe, in many European cities the situation is not that different from the Czech Republic. We have been presenting our UrbanCyclers concept in several cities around Europe, and the response has been very positive. Nearly all cities around Europe want to increase the share of cycling in their transport and are therefore looking for ways to make this happen. Building new cycle lanes is almost always helpful, but it is also expensive, takes a long time and is not necessarily enough on its own. UrbanCyclers complements traditional cycling measures and gives cities an innovative and very efficient way to promote cycling and healthier and more sustainable lifestyles.