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INNOVATORS Q&A

Bike and scooter riders, rejoice: Pointz helps navigate rides through cities safely

The new microbility GPS app, founded and designed by a Brown University student, will launch in Providence on April 1, and on May 1 in Boston

Maggie Bachenberg is the founder of Pointz, a new micromobility GPS app that safely navigates bike and scooter rides through cities.Maggie Bachenberg

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at alexa.gagosz@globe.com.

Maggie Bachenberg is the founder and chief executive of Pointz, a new mircomobility GPS app that navigates bike and scooter rides through cities safely. Pointz is currently working with a small group of Providence riders to test the initial version. Throughout the month of March, they will have 200 beta testersin Providence.

The company’s public launch is scheduled for April 1 in Providence and May 1 in Boston.

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Q: What is Pointz and how it works?

Bachenberg: Pointz is a mobile mapping application that navigates bike and scooter riders through cities via safe (low-stress, low-traffic) roads. Our proprietary routing algorithm favors roads on a unique “quiet network” of residential side streets, protected bike lanes, and other “bike-friendly” roads. This network is created and vetted by experienced local riders. Our solution also incorporates crowdsourcing for riders of all levels so that we can continuously improve and update our maps.

Q: Tell me the story behind the idea. How did you come up with this?

Bachenberg: I got into cycling during a cross country bike trip during my gap year after high school. During the trip, I noticed how difficult it was to choose my routes, especially when going through big cities. Once I arrived at college, I knew I wanted to do something entrepreneurial, yet related to cycling. The idea of Pointz, as it is now, evolved from learning about the challenges of over 200 bike and scooter riders in addition to the riding experience of my co-founder Trisha Ballakur and myself.

Q: Why should someone use Pointz instead of another bike-route app or Google Maps?

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Bachenberg: Pointz prioritizes the safest, yet shortest, route possible. In contrast, other mapping apps will default to the shortest route, almost always composed of busy streets and dangerous intersections. Unlike Google Maps, we are focused solely on the needs of bike and scooter riders, building out features specifically tailored to the micromobility riding experience. Additionally, our app utilizes recommendations from experienced riders before we launch in each city and incorporates crowdsourcing to improve our maps.

Q: What makes a city “bike-friendly?” And is Providence, or any other city in Rhode Island, one?

Bachenberg: Yes, there are definitely cities that are better than others for riding bikes and scooters. A couple of elements in particular help make a city “bike-friendly.” Besides the obvious bike infrastructure (in particular, separated lanes), parking, bike network connectivity, and laws that are advantageous to bikes and pedestrians all help make a city better for riding. Providence is working towards becoming more bike-friendly and has put together a plan to improve streets not only for people on micromobility but also for pedestrians.

Q: What challenges are you facing in development, and how will you address them?

Bachenberg: One challenge we face is in optimizing the runtime of our algorithm. We take into account our quiet road network while calculating the shortest, yet safest route. For routes that have starting and ending points farther away, this calculation takes longer. We are investigating new ways to calculate the route faster. Another challenge is that we rely on cloud services to host a variety of components to our distributed system behind the user interface of the app. Therefore, we have dependencies on coordinating all of these parts into a cohesive flow. As we refine our beta version, we are actively understanding each component hosted remotely, being conscious of how to use it well.

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Q: Prior to launching publicly, what are you hearing about the pros and cons from your user experience tests?

Bachenberg: As we test, we ask our users what they like and dislike about the app, as well as what they wish the app could do. For pros, users so far have said that our routing is better than their former mapping solution, rating at the end is simple, and the app’s interface is intuitive. Some common requests include the ability to save routes, see alternative route options, and add additional waypoints in the route.

Q: What’s the business model behind this app? Will you have investors, a Kickstarter, or display advertisements of some kind down the road?

Bachenberg: Pointz will follow a freemium subscription model, offering a free version of the app while monetizing premium features with a subscription. Premium features include the ability to save and share routes, access to unlimited rides every month, and access to fitness metrics based on rides.

We are also considering and testing three additional revenue streams: selling their routing algorithm to micromobility delivery services/operators, selling anonymous aggregate data to city planners, and in-app advertisements in the free version of the app.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.