[Product Roadmap] Tracing the path MapmyIndia took to digitise Indian gullies before Google
When Rashmi Verma and Rakesh Verma started CE Infosystems in 1995, they realised that India didn’t have a map-reading culture unlike the US. However, the duo believed that close to 80 percent of all data would have a location component in the future. This led them to invest Rs 50 lakh of their savings and start MapMyIndia in 1995.
The co-founders, who had seen and experienced the efficacy of digital maps across business, governance and product/service delivery, wanted to do the same for India. The idea was ahead of its time, but the duo went on to build the most comprehensive, accurate, and highly localised repository of mapping data.
The MapmyIndia Move app recently won Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge in the Others category for its unique indigenous solution to ensure hyperlocal discovery. It offers a detailed house number-level map search, compatibility with India's own satellite imagery service from ISRO's Bhuvan, real-time traffic and safety-based navigation, and more.
The company has grown with location technology, specifically in the areas of navigation, tracking, IoT, and analytics to provide products, services, and solutions to over 10 million end users – consumers, enterprises, and governments.
MapmyIndia’s inbuilt digital map solutions are used by auto companies Tata Motors, Hyundai, Mahindra & Mahindra, BMW, Ford, Jaguar, TVS Motors, and others. Its maps also power Flipkart, Amazon, and Ola Cabs.
But how did it build this revolutionary product?
Starting with digitising maps
Rohan Verma, CEO and Executive Director, MapmyIndia, says the company has been on a mission to make the world better through digital maps and location technologies, driving phygital transformation amongst enterprises.
“The company’s highly accurate and updated hyperlocal data, location intelligence, and IoT have a horizontal capability, enabling businesses across sectors to develop core capabilities, save costs, differentiate offerings, and increase customer delight by creating lasting value,” he says.
Rohan, the founders’ son and an electrical engineer, joined the business in 2004 and worked his way up to CEO and Executive Director.
Since the late 90s, the company has been developing technologies and solutions with a focus on proprietary digital maps data of India – comprehensive, accurate, and fully compliant with India’s legal requirements.
“These are highly accurate industry-grade maps and have been made available to the general public free of cost throughout our journey,” Rohan says.
At the time that MapmyIndia started operations, no one had any idea of how the mapping universe would evolve. The first step towards building the MapmyIndia Move app was collecting mapping data manually, using hand-held GPS devices, a digital camera, and a laptop. People walked down streets and roads across India for this.
“This happened in phases as we kept getting projects from various customers, including Coca Cola, Essar Cellphone (now Vodafone), state and central governments, institutes, government-affiliated bodies, and more. We kept updating and upgrading our map repository. Till date, we have worked with more than 5,000 enterprises,” Rohan says.
In 2004, after close to a decade of mapping India, Rohan, who created the initial website, says the team felt confident that a comprehensive navigable map of India could be released to the public at large. He explains printouts could be taken of the route specified, with street-level navigation from “anywhere to anywhere in India”.
Building the personal navigation device
In 2007, the company launched MapmyIndia Navigator, one of the first personal navigation devices in India.
”This put the power of mapping in the hands of the public. It was handy, could be carried anywhere and used by anyone – in a car or otherwise,” Rohan says.
More features were added over time as data became richer and more localised. Regional language options were also introduced for voice navigation.
Rohan says the team kept updating and adding to their mapping data, courtesy their other projects. Most car manufactures were by now realising the value offered by the built-in, real-time navigation into OEM-supplied car AV systems.
The navigation also helped do a POI (Points of Interest) search across categories like ATMs, hospitals and clinics, restaurants etc. It would guide you to the neatest POI you selected, and also show others on the route.
“The resultant rich data was now made available to people via our website MapmyIndia.com. As a result, we were able to launch of the first version of our app, MapmyIndia Maps. This was when the Move app, as you see it today, started taking its existing form.
“It used to stream data from our servers but there were accessibility issues due to that time’s patchy internet. This was sorted by offering India’s first offline maps; these could be downloaded into the mobile phone and there were no problems if you hit a dead zone,” Rohan says.
Indians don’t use maps
However, the ride till that point wasn’t easy.
Rohan says the first learning was a bit harsh: “People in India don’t use maps." The company had to help them understand the utility of maps and the important role they could play in making their personal and professional lives convenient, efficient, and productive.
This was done by in-car navigation systems. These showed users how live navigation worked, and MapmyIndia kept adding to the product as technology and internet progressed.
The platform-agnostic company aims to deliver a solution to users anytime, anywhere, and on their preferred platform. An app seemed the way ahead as mobile phones became ubiquitous and smarter. And the seeds of Move were sown.
The Move platform has been designed to be scalable in use but to evolve with technological advancements. The IoT devices feature is testimony to that. This flexibility is also key to the success of Move, which distills the best of MapmyIndia’s tech and insights developed over close to two decades. The platform is therefore ‘Built to Last’.
“A paradigm shift was needed to bring about a digital revolution. However, there was little motivation as you usually find someone to guide you at roadsides and pitstops. GPS then seemed like an acronym for Gully Positioning System. Our efforts and our GPS navigation bundled with value-adds drew in customers over time as they realised how unsafe, unreliable, and inefficient the earlier way of functioning was,” Rohan says.
MapmyIndia Navigator proved to be the clincher. The team loaded it with the best digital maps of India along with a combination of utility and cool features like ebook reader, photo storage/viewing, movies and songs, photo frame, predictive search etc.
“This product made MapmyIndia a household name in India. The curiosity and utility worked well for the product. We also kept upgrading our maps data, based on user feedback. Map updates were regularly released. Initially, these were quarterly releases, then monthly; now, they are ongoing,” Rohan says.
The team also introduced connected features like traffic updates into the app (then called Maps).
In 2019, combining the power of digital mapping, IoT, tracking, telematics, and the best of location tech, the team launched MapmyIndia Move, its flagship super app platform.
“This is the amalgamation of more than 25 years of work and innovations at MapmyIndia. The power of Move is not just limited to navigation from point A to point B. It is a one-stop solution for all your location needs,” Rohan says.
What does Move do?
In its current form, MapmyIndia Move offers many useful features:
- COVID-19 updates and safety check: Users can search and see daily updated nearby corona containment zones, corona testing, treatment and isolation centres, food and hunger relief centres, night shelters etc. to stay safe. They can get alerts if they are in/near a containment zone via the safety check tool.
- Search detailed and precise maps/locations: Comprehensive and precise house address-level map search allows users to navigate exactly to the doorstep of their destination.
- Easy to share digital address for a location (eLoc): MapmyIndia solves the problem of long, complicated addresses by letting users easily communicate, search, and reach the location by typing or speaking just six characters that uniquely identify any place across India.
- Navigate easily and safely with voice-guided directions: MapmyIndia’s voice- guided directions are based on live traffic and road safety conditions. It uses big data analytics technologies, measuring and analysing movement behaviour of vehicles fitted with GPS devices etc.
- Search nearby: One can search for nearby places across any category of interest, local events, trendy restaurants, things to do, or notable locations nearby. Hospitals, fuel stations, museums, restaurants etc with user reviews and ratings can be discovered.
- Add reviews and ratings for places, and make and share lists to help others.
- Put your business on the map: Add your outlets and information, and showcase your business to stay digitally connected with existing customers and be discovered by new ones.
- Hyperlocal reports to help the community: Users can serve as vigilant good Samaritans to make their surroundings better by notifying the community of issues such as roadblocks, bad roads, accidents, unsafe areas, waterlogging, fire burning, garbage dumps, broken street lights, accidents, and crimes. These can be pinpointed to specific map locations.
- Stay connected to your car always: MapmyIndia Move can connect with MapmyIndia GPS safety gadgets installed in your vehicle. The app can help you check the live location and health of your vehicle, play back the route, monitor driving behaviour of those who drove, get alerts like geo-fence to know if and when your vehicle entered/exited your home or another location.
- Live location sharing: This lets your friends and family know about your real-time whereabouts by sharing permission-based live location with them.
- Map your world: You can see the trail of places you travelled to and follow what’s happening in particular areas of your interest through WorldView. Overlay the map with places, people, and things of interest to you.
- App in App: MapmyIndia Move allows others apps to be integrated into the super app. For example, apps provided by your children’s school such as MyKids, or your organisation’s field workforce app WorkMate, or fleet management app InTouch, and more can be integrated for all things related to maps and location.
Joining the COVID-19 fight
MapmyIndia’s solutions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic – the Move app, MapmyIndia COVID-19 India Guide, and Map APIs - offer hyperlocal and updated on-ground, coronavirus-related information.
Mercedes Benz, one of the leading car companies in the world, is offering the MapmyIndia COVID-19 India Guide as part of the OEM offering to its customers.
The company has also developed a set of tools to help organisations safely reopen amidst the nationwide unlock process. These help ensure the safety of employees, consumers, vendors, and other stakeholders by helping gauge:
- Which employees to allow back to work in offices/factories (or keep working from home)
- Which business locations, office branches, outlets etc. to open or keep closed
- Which retail locations and outlets to service and deliver goods
- Which routes are safe/unsafe to move goods or transport people
- How to dynamically update route plans for the movement of goods or transport of people
- How to give employees coronavirus-related proximity alerts and information as they travel for work
- How to give employees real-time safe navigation to avoid micro-containment zones
MapmyIndia has also reimagined and reinvented Mobility and Maps to build a unique C.A.S.E. suite of automotive solutions. The cloud-connected software and hardware components form a bridge, seamlessly linking your car, gadgets, and the outside world, helping develop the kind of intelligence that will enable your car to talk. This can be used by OEMs and delivers a highly personalised C.A.S.E. experience to customers. The team will soon be working with OEMs.
The platform connects the vehicle to the user’s gadgets, cloud, MapmyIndia servers, Move gadgets, sensors etc. This is the glue that binds the ecosystem, generating live, real-time updates and diagnostics, and delivering safety, efficiency, and an enriched experience.
The C.A.S.E. platform is equipped with Advance Driving Assistance (ADAS). It is not just aware of the current location, surroundings, and path, but also of any upcoming obstacle/danger, prompting the driver well in advance to take preventive action. In case of emergency like the driver not being able to apply brakes in time, the car autonomously applies brakes.
The vehicle is equipped with self-diagnostic capabilities and can monitor its health, part failure, predictive maintenance, and battery parameters.
MapmyIndia is now also looking at shared mobility or ‘mobility as a service’.
“The next wave of growth in the automotive segment may not come from retail sales, but from fleet sales. Changing mindsets will force automakers to adapt and modify their product offerings. App-based cab aggregators will need to adopt new technologies to create credible service differentiation. The offering should be high on experience, as efficiency, speed, and accuracy would be vital,” Rohan explains.
Electric is another key focus area, and MapmyIndia is already equipping vehicles with EV charging station locators. The feature enables users to locate the nearest charging station with a compatible plug. Users can book a slot, and also know whether it is a fast-charging point or a slow-charging one.
“State-of-the-art Spider Maps will tell you the maximum your vehicle will be able to travel with the current charge. Armed with this intelligence, your vehicle will suggest the best path to be chosen. In case the destination cannot be reached by taking any of the alternate routes, it will guide you to the nearest charging station,” Rohan says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)