Tag Archives: Bikeroute

Laurence on Cyclist-Centric Mapping

17 Jan

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Hello all,

A good deal of the social side of our app is based around our belief that people want to share their favorite routes to get around, to train, and to avoid traffic. This all comes down to mapping, and our ability to communicate the complexities of maps in a way that is simple, elegant, and – above all else – relevant to cyclists.

First, before you do anything else – before you check your email, before you get up to walk your dog, even before you think of the health and safety of your family (okay, maybe not this one) – check out this map of crowdsourced bike knowledge from the New York Times. To me, it is absolutely incredible – and not just because of what we are trying to build at Hammerhead Navigation. I find it so awesome because it shows just how dedicated, practical, caring, and enthusiastic the biking community is. We look out for each other – we love looking out for each other. Telling our friends about rides they should try out or avoid, gear they should get, or just that they should get off their butts and ride. I seldom turn down the opportunity to research a bicycle purchase or gear recommendation for a friend. In fact, most of the time I spend far too long on this task and end up with an essay of opinion.

What makes me excited about this in the context of our company is that there isn’t yet a way to practically tap this deep well of crowdsourced enthusiasm – this somewhat tribal knowledge that seems to smolder around messenger bags, old chains and within those helmet clad heads.  What if you could access the data from this map as you rode around your city? What if you could trust our device to get you to where you wanted to go in the safest and most efficient way? Using these crowdsourced data points, the Hammerhead could quickly guide riders safely and efficiently around common obstacles – both long and short term. For instance, if there is a particularly troublesome cobblestone street, the Hammerhead could just always avoid that avenue if the rider had that in her preferences. Or, more immediately, if there is construction that blocks off a bike lane, or the President is in town and traffic is a snarl – riders could actually help the community at large by flagging these issues.

Sure, this is pretty pie-in-the-sky, but it is is absolutely possible with a little ingenuity on the app side. Unsurprisingly, this is a primary goal of ours. We are already building our app to rapidly respond to changes on the fly. From there, we just have to give cyclists a reliable, robust platform for inputting these variables. It is a challenge we are excited to tackle. That is why we are always looking outward in this process, turning over stones and old piles of punctured inner tubes. If we enable riders to flag hazards (or even things they really like!), we can not only build a deep & global database of great routes, but also ensure that these routes are founded on and filled with data relevant to all cyclists. The implications of this are incredibly exciting to us – both within the context of our business, and as cyclists.

Lots of work to be done so let’s get back to it!

Laurence

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The problem of finding a bike route

29 Oct

Bikers generally do not bike because it is the quickest way to get from one point to another. While they bike for a myriad of reasons, one thing they all want is a low-traffic route. Unfortunately the roads that carry less traffic are often far more challenging to follow. When I biked across the USA with a Yale group in 2006, this problem became painfully apparent.  

Despite being armed with the advice of previous groups that had ridden the same cross-country ride, there was really no way that they could easily share this knowledge with us. We could seldom find, much less follow, the best routes. Instructions were usually too long, too unfamiliar and too complex. We therefore resorted to sending a few riders, armed with a map and chalk, ahead of the rest of the group. These riders were to stop at each intersection, try to identify the intersection on the map, and then chalk the correct turn direction over the center of the intersection. 

This was a strategy that was decidedly archaic.  It was also ineffective.  Chalk was hard to see, and those responsible for the chalking had to try to follow a paper map while biking.  Needless to say, every one of us who rode, wound up riding all the way across America on sub-optimal routes.  Frequently we would end up on rather perilous roads.  More than once we found ourselves on an Interstate highway with no clue of either how we had arrived there to begin with nor how we would navigate to a safer route.

I managed to arrive safely in San Francisco with no small dose of luck, but the problem of bike navigation was permanently seared into the back of my mind.  It would not be until the summer of 2012 that we would be able to create a compelling solution.

Piet

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