Summary:

Nav systems have been optimized for cars on city streets, but what if you’re on a moped trying to avoid steep hills, or on foot on a mountain trail? You need a new kind of navigation.

Scoot (woman on electric scooter)
photo: Scoot

Navigation may have found its initial home in the car dashboard, but there are many different modes of transportation we use from feet to bikes to skis that can all benefit from some turn-by-turn directions. San Francisco’s scooter-sharing startup Scoot is a good case in point.

It wanted to create a navigation system for its fleet of electric mopeds, but it had a few concerns. Its scooters don’t handle freeways well. Nor are they particularly good at mounting steep hills. So it went to open source mapper Mapbox to help it develop a turn-by-turn directions app that navigates around those obstacles.

Source: Mapbox

Source: Mapbox

Scoot and Mapbox announced today they have built a nav and mapping app with the capabilities and limitations of the electric scooter in mind. In addition to highways and inclines, the app can help Scoot’s customers avoid San Francisco streets with trolley tracks — notoriously unkind to two-wheeled vehicles – as well take into account the amount of juice left in the electric vehicle’s battery so you won’t find yourself stranded a mile from your destination.

The deal represents a new twist for Mapbox, which recently raised a $10 million Series A. Founded four years ago by a bunch of open-source mapping enthusiasts, Mapbox follows the same business model as Nokia Here, providing raw map data to navigation and other location-based services companies. But instead of selling proprietary geographical data, Mapbox draws its maps almost entirely from open sources such as OpenStreetMap and the government. It then offers its products to customers through an API, which allows them to customize the designs of their maps as they see fit.

You’ve probably already run into Mapbox data on Foursquare, Runkeeper or Pinterest. With its deal with Scoot, though, Mapbox is expanding into a new field: navigation that can be customized by context, CEO Eric Gundersen said.

“We want to take that same level of customization in the map design space to the navigation space,” Gundersen said.

As with its mapping data, Mapbox is relying on open source with its nav technology, using Open Source Routing Machine (OSRM) at its core. Mapbox is making that technology more developer friendly by presenting its features as parameters customers can turn on and off to tailor navigation engines for any mode or style of transport. In the case of Scoot, it’s barring freeways, trolley car routes and any hill with an incline greater than what the scooters can manage. But there are endless possible permutations, Gundersen said.

Scoot's new Mapbox powered nav engine resides on your smartphone but plugs right into the shared scooter.

Scoot’s new Mapbox powered nav engine resides on your smartphone but plugs right into the shared scooter.

For instance, Gundersen said Mapbox is working with companies building sight-seeing apps for the connected car that would allow you to take the most scenic route to your destination, rather than the quickest or most fuel-efficient one. Or a sports-driving app for a motorcycle could map out the most curve-filled route through a city, guaranteeing you’ll get the maximum thrill ride out of your crotch rocket.

But Gundersen said he believes the biggest opportunity for Mapbox’s technology lies outside of the motor vehicle. We’re already starting to see a second wave of navigation apps targeting public transit users. But given the vast wealth of geographic information systems (GIS) data Mapbox has collected, navigation can go beyond the commute and into outdoor recreation.

National parks could offer hiking trail navigation apps. Training apps like Runkeeper (which is already a Mapbox map customer) could route you through parks and along sidewalks with fewer intersections interrupting your jog. And a bicyclist can arrive in a new town already armed with a digital map of all bike lanes.

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