How a tech firm is making travel safer during COVID-19

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Mere months ago, Europe was considered to be leagues away from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. But today, it’s one of the world’s worst-hit regions, with public life suspended and governmental policies encouraging people to stay at home.

While the prospect of extended isolation might please workers who hate commuting, it will fill others, especially leaders of early-stage and growing businesses with frustration, with many fearing for the survival of their businesses.

Scott Shepard, chief business officer at mobility startup Iomob is one of these self-quarantined business figures. Holed up in Barcelona while the virus rages, he’s anything but frustrated, or despairing.

Despite their physical separation, his team have launched a project to help local and regional governments, as well as transit operators, ensure social-distancing compliance for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

Using algorithmic technology and real-time transit capacity data, they’ve built an app to ensure that life, especially for key workers and those that need to leave their homes to buy basic necessities, carries on as normally as possible. Set to expand its services rapidly across Europe and the UK, we speak to Shepard to find out more.

Real Business, (RB): What is Iomob and when did it launch?

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Scott Shepard, (pictured).
Scott Shepard, (SS): Iomob started life in 2017 and is a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platform that enables cities and transportation operators to deploy their own branded applications, allowing users to plan, book, pay for and unlock e-mobility options as part of their door-to-door journeys.

RB: What does Iomob offer users?

SS: Iomob has built a white label Mobility as a Service solution which combines algorithms enabling multimodal combinations of public and private services. This includes a software development kit, (SDK) that allows end-users to discover mobility services, receive multimodal combinations for their journeys, book and pay for a range of mobility services via our client’s own apps.

RB: How are you all coping with isolation?

SS: At the moment, all of our staff and executives are in quarantine. As a “deep tech” company full of mostly software engineers, working remotely is more do-able than hardware startups or service companies. However, we are still adapting.

RB: Why did your team decide to build the app?

SS: It was after reading Sequoia’s black swan that we came across an urgent call for startups in Europe with solutions that could somehow address the spread or impact of the virus, that’s when we began working on the app.

RB: Do you think this service can have a hand in stemming the virus outbreak in the world’s worst-affected countries?

SS: Absolutely, Iomob plans to expand our core solution fast around Europe while also integrating new “social distance” functionality such as journeys which support in app-payments so users do not have to transact with drivers. It will also filter results for services that have a higher social distance quotient (e.g. micro-mobility) and create a new crowdsourcing feature so that other app users can rate how crowded different mass transit vehicles are in real-time to ascertain which public transit services are “safe” or not.

RB: What’s your current plan of action?

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The Iomob team, (pictured).
SS: We’re developing an open platform that integrates available mobility service providers (MSPs), public transport, taxis, and other mobility services across multiple cities and regions in Europe. The platform will provide intermodal routing algorithms to allow users to select available mobility options within a selected geography that optimise social distancing as a prioritised parameter.

RB: The mobility sector is one that’s experienced massive innovation, with shared mobility, in particular, becoming a popular topic of conversation. Are you concerned about market saturation and competition?

SS: Not at all. Mobility transition has been well underway due to the transformation to the industry caused by Uber, Lyft, Grab, Didi, Careem, FreeNow and others who have changed the way many people book and pay for such services. In our case, we have already integrated Karhoo’s API which supports the booking and payment of 30,000 taxis in Spain and hundreds of thousands of taxis throughout Europe and soon we anticipate doing the same with a global aggregator of private ride-hailing services as well.

RB: What lessons can be learned from COVID-19?

SS: To help flatten the curve of the current and next contagion, we’ll all need better data about contagion hotspots including services available and real-time information about occupancy levels to support new routing options for mobility service users. But as we mentioned in our recently submitted Horizon 2020 funding application to the European Union, we believe social distancing features can be useful in many other contexts beyond pandemics like COVID-19.

This article was originally published on 31 March 2020.

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