Society

Planning your journey just got easier

(From left) Siddharth Krishnaswamy, Akhilesh Koppineni and Krishna Chaitanya. Photo: R. Ravindran  

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Three former IIT students float a public transport mobile app, Raft, to showcase their love for the city.

A few years ago, after he got into IIT-Madras, West Mambalam-based Siddharth Krishnaswamy was faced with an existential question — how to go to college? The answer, he found out after a cursory enquiry, lay in bus 5B.

“Through hearsay, I was under the impression that there was only one bus, but when I asked around, I realised that there were more options — and that too, a bus stop very near my hostel,” he recalls. “I just didn’t have that information.” He was then determined to do something about it to help others who might face issues like this.

Around the same time, Akhilesh Koppineni, a ‘resident’ of Mandakini Hostel in the picturesque IIT campus, was facing a similar problem. He had to take a campus bus every morning to reach his class, but wasted a lot of time waiting for it. “I was frustrated waiting for it every single morning,” he says. “Knowing when it would reach the stop would’ve made things easier.” It was a problem many others faced in IIT. And, Akhilesh was determined to do something about it.

It was then that he teamed up with Siddharth and another friend, Krishna Chaitanya, to create a web portal for campus-users to help students spot where the bus was located — they could decide when to get off their hostels, instead of wasting time. And soon, it was a hit among the students.

But the trio has moved on since their student days. After pursuing corporate jobs, the three have come back — to the IIT-M Research Park, a place very close to their den, for their dream project. Called Raft, this public transport mobile application that launched recently, has more than 50,000 downloads currently. Its function, simply put, strives to give the user the best routes to take between any two points in the city, using up-to-date timings of buses and local trains.

“Presently, there are several apps, including Google Maps, that give information on bus and train routes in the city, but the accuracy of the data is not reliable. When we started working on Raft, we realised that most of the information has not been either captured or digitised,” says Siddharth.

That’s the gap they wished to bridge. That took them six months. “We put together a research team to go to the various bus stands to get updated information,” he says. They covered 6,500 bus stops in the city, mapped more than 1,500 route numbers, and spoke to transport officials, conductors and commuters to find out existing and new routes. “Even today, we have an on-the-ground team so that we give people the latest data. About 50 bus routes were changed this February; it was a challenge to source all that revised information,” says Akhilesh, who hails from Hyderabad.

Also hailing from that city is Krishna Chaitanya, who is the ‘technical brain’ behind this 10-member young team. Back home, he might have faced some flak initially for joining a start-up, but he says that Raft helps him solve new problems. “As developers with big companies, we’re mostly solving problems that have already been worked on,” says Krishna. “But with start-ups, you get to solve a new problem and more importantly, build a product.”

The three youngsters, all of just 25 and working out of an office space at the IIT-M Research Park, have big dreams for the application. “We’re looking at branching out to other cities soon,” reveals Siddharth. “We’re also mulling over an exact locate-where-your-bus-is feature, but will have to work on a lot of logistics before that can be achieved.” Point out to him that a lot of youngsters prefer using their own mode of transport, and he says nonchalantly, “That will change. Public transport, surely, is the future. Look at all evolved cities across the world, and you’ll know.”

For now, the three are waiting for the Chennai Metro to start operations. “On the very day it chugs along in the city, whenever that is, we’ll get Raft updated with the information,” they say confidently.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2017 12:22:36 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/with-raft-planning-your-journey-just-got-easier/article7278228.ece