One afternoon, in the sweltering Delhi heat, Ashuvinder Ahuja's wife had to wait for over 15 minutes, in order to pick up their children from the bus stop. With no real-time information on the arrival of the school bus, she had no other choice but to wait under the unforgiving sun. This made Ashuvinder wonder about the different options for real-time school bus tracking currently in the market.
He soon found that the industry was being served by several B2B vendors who hosted, provided and installed GPS solutions, and while parents did receive an SMS on the status of their child's commute, there were no updates on real-time traffic situations nor any confirmation on shifts.
Building the product
Having worked for Druva Technologies and platforms like WebEngage, 51-year-old Ashuvinder found this to be an intriguing problem and launched AppAlert, a cloud and mobile-based real-time school bus tracking system earlier this year. Working as a single mobile device solution, the platform uses precision map-based tracking, along with roll call capabilities, which in turn helps parents as well as the school management to know the exact location of the bus and the children in the bus.
“By going completely mobile and cloud we have fundamentally changed the entire paradigm; no more installation, no more hosting and maintenance. All the schools require is a mobile device and it is an Uber-like experience for both parents and schools,” says Ashuvinder.
Working of the platform
The app alerts parents—who can register in a one-step process—in advance when the bus arrives at the student’s stop, and in the event of an accident or breakdown, help can reach the school bus immediately.
The platform offers secure communication of the data from the mobile device in such a way that only an authorised parent or guardian can monitor the system. It also provides a real-time location of the bus on the map, real-time ETA, ability to monitor more than one child and/or school.
AppAlert also provides real-time notification on when the bus is expected at the stop, when it has reached the school, and if the child is absent during pickup in the morning and/or drop in the afternoon.
On the school side, the platform and its architecture is built with AWS and Google maps and enterprise security like SSL, HTTPS and custom encryption. Ashuvinder says the platform is easy to use, and any school personnel on the bus can operate the app. He adds that it also has a comprehensive and documented roll-calls during pick up and drop.
AppAlert provides extensive reporting and analytics, monitoring of bus speed in real time, capturing any deviation from set route via GeoFence, bus loading and utilisation data, miles driven and fuel consumption and historical trends, among others. On the parent side, the team is working on a patent-pending security methodology for de-boarding.
The app works on a subscription fee for the parents Rs.100/- plus taxes for a month, and Rs.1200/- plus tax for a year. The school gets it free, the only thing they need to invest in is a mobile device.
Initially, Ashuvinder discussed the idea with his friends and acquaintances – Mayank Kumar, Founder of AppIterate, Avlesh Singh, CEO, WebEngage, Pawan Dubey, Architect at Cisco US, as well as some key educationists, like Amit Rana who owns multiple schools.
SK Samal, who worked with Ashuvinder in his previous stints, soon joined the team. Functionally strong with extensive experience in running global projects in US, UK and India, he brought structure to the team. MBA graduates from IMT Nagpur, Sangeeta Bhattacharya and Radhika Sareen, and ex-teacher Bhavna Saldhi soon joined as well.
Funding and market
AppAlert is based out of Delhi and US and has raised a funding amount of $900,000 led by a US-based investor Narinder Singh. With this amount of funding, the team intends to further build and enhance the technology and expand its offerings to other Indian markets and other international markets like Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Australia.
There are some strict policies and guidelines that school buses need to adhere to Government of India schools. Some of these include – ‘School Bus,’ must be written on the back and front of the bus. If it was a hired bus, then ‘on-school duty’ needs to be mentioned, along with medical aid, and several other details. Also with the increasing number of crime and violence against children, mandated CCTV cameras and other such measures were implemented.
A report by WHO on road safety stated that the mortality rate of children is as high as 19 in 1,00,000. Looking at this alarming statistics, there are several GPS solutions and technology-based companies focussed on school bus security like Opal Solutions, ATIC and startups like Thiruvananthapuram-based TrackSchoolBus and Bengaluru-based Northstar and Purvathana.
AppAlert is adding several more home use functionalities, which will allow parents to have complete visibility. The team is also planning some key enhancements that will change the way parents communicate with all the extracurricular activities their children are involved in.
AppAlert claims to have tied up with over 20 schools in Delhi NCR and Mumbai covering over 15,000 children. The goal is to capture more than 1,000 schools within the next 24 months, reaching out to almost five lakh students.