Brown-based bike navigation app hits roads nationwide with public launch

A CYCLING-FOCUSED NAVIGATION app co-founded by Chief Technology Officer Trisha Ballakur, left, and CEO Maggie Bachenberg, both seniors at Brown University, had its public, nationwide launch this week. / COURTESY POINTZ

PROVIDENCE – A cycling-focused navigation app co-founded by two seniors at Brown University had its public, nationwide launch this week.

The app, called Pointz and led by CEO Maggie Bachenberg and Chief Technology Officer Trisha Ballakur, has been described by its team as “Waze for bikes.” Using open-source data and crowdsourcing, Pointz helps cyclists and other micromobility users find safer travel routes, or a “quiet network” of streets with features such as bike lanes or residential surroundings. Micromobility refers to transportation using lightweight vehicles such as bicycles and scooters, especially electric ones.

Since launching about a week ago in the Google Play Store, and in the iOS App Store within the past 24 hours, 173 users had downloaded Pointz as of late Thursday morning, according to Bachenberg.

Bachenberg had the idea for the app while embarking on a cross-country bike trip, where she found that locals often had the most useful route recommendations. To incorporate this local feedback into the app’s routes, Pointz asks users to rate roads for their bike friendliness on a scale of 1-5, considering factors such as the road’s speed limit, surface quality and bike infrastructure.

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The app also displays usual navigation features such as turn-by-turn directions and distance remaining to the user’s destination.

While developing the app, the Pointz team interviewed more than 300 cyclists and scooter riders, shared mobility operators and city and town representatives to collect data on the most pressing concerns for micromobility users. Among all groups of interviewees, safety stood out as the top concern. Led by Ballakur, the team’s software engineers built the app to address these concerns.

Pointz previously tested the app with several hundred beta users, with more than 300 people signed up in the pre-launch phase in September and another 450 on a waiting list. Around that time, the app closed out its pre-seed funding round with an investment from Oregon-based Rogue Venture Partners.

Since then, the startup has added features such as opportunities for users to leave more detailed information in crowdsourcing data; while the app previously asked users just to rate a road, it now provides expanded options for users to describe why they assigned that rating.

“We’ve started learning about other things we hadn’t necessarily thought of,” Bachenberg said, such as whether certain routes are prone to icy conditions when it’s cold out.

The app has also added a “pointz” system, which users can take part in to win prizes such as Patagonia and REI gift cards in return for their crowdsourcing feedback.

Bachenberg did not have data immediately available for where most of the app’s users reside, but cities that have the most users signed up for the app’s email list include Portland, Ore., New York City, Providence, Boston and San Francisco.

The team, which consists of about eight people, plans to launch the app to international users later this year, and is also working on a premium version with additional features. Pointz will likely roll out new features as the weather warms and more people take to the roads on bikes, Bachenberg said.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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