We caught up with the founder of Route Reports – Connell McLaughlin to discuss their growth over the last couple of years and what they’re working on now.
Hi Connell, can you tell us a bit about yourself and Route Reports?
I’m the founder of Route Reports, which I started back in 2017. We make IoT devices for transport operators to capture data in real-time, which we feed into our AI analytics platform. The aim is to give our clients dynamic insights and predictions to help streamline the service, improve safety and cost-efficiency, and to allow smarter planning. Until now, we’ve worked with transport operators across the UK and the US, and we’re beginning to look towards Europe.
So where did Route Reports come from? How did you get started?
It all began back when I was 16. Northern Ireland’s double-decker buses had problems with vehicle damage from potholes and tree branches. Drivers couldn’t identify the hazards, so they had little chance of avoiding or keeping a record of them. It was worse on rural routes, with the only solution being constantly trimming back trees along the entire route.
I entered a design competition with a new piece of hardware I’d made that had an accelerometer and GPS tracker that could tell the bus had been struck and would log the coordinates of the offending trees or potholes. This would tell drivers and operators where to avoid and exactly which branches needed trimming. Off the back of this design contest, the local council became interested in putting the device onto their buses.
So you saw great initial feedback from the market, how did you grow the business from there?
From the work on buses, I could see the potential for such sensors to solve a host of problems based on real-time data collection and processing. We entered into another competition that led to us working with a Rolling stock company (ROSCO) who owns a third of all trains in the UK. We expanded on the technology we’d used in the bus project to use vibrations to find where the tracks were becoming faulty.
Our work with the ROSCO was a great entry point for the UK market, and it was becoming increasingly clear that there was a market opportunity. So, at University I entered into a scheme that gave help to startups with a small initial investments to help the business continue to operate.
The turning point for the business was being part of an accelerator program run by Berkeley University called Skydeck. The competition was with 20 other startups in California in which we got to the final 4, and ultimately got the investment needed to focus on growing the company.
The connection with the US also led to working with a major US train operator, using our sensors to detect the movement of passengers. It was also our first foray outside of using just vibration data. We decided to take advantage of existing CCTV systems by developing computer vision solutions. So, If a fight breaks out, our computer vision algorithms allow the camera to track it and feedback in real-time so law enforcement can intervene at the next station.
Sounds like you have had a busy few years, what kind of things are you working on at the moment?
We have been quite busy, and some of our most interesting work has been with TfL. We started working with them through the RoadLab Innovation challenge they set up with Innovate UK and Plexal. We’ve been working together to help tackle the ever-present problem of potholes. Our sensors are installed on buses to accurately identify pothole locations by analysing the bus’s motion as it drives along the road. This is then fed back to TfL and local councils who can plan accordingly, from sending a quick response team to fix the pothole, or to reroute buses. Incidentally, it was through this project that we got involved with the London Connectory.
We’re now working on maximising this relationship by showing TfL and our other customers the versatility of our product and expanding the use-cases. For instance, we can also ingest camera data from public buses to analyse passenger numbers from stop to stop and by the time of day. We have sensors installed for a train operating company where we analyse WiFi and temperature to ensure that the passengers get optimal air conditioning and internet access, as well as tracking the ride comfort to inform improvements to the tracks and train suspension.
We’ve grown from myself to seven people in the last year and a half we’re already looking to Europe for expansion, so things are moving quickly.
You’ve been at the London Connectory for a few months now. How are you finding it?
It’s a great office for us and a step up from where the company has been based in the past. Working in a client-based industry means it’s great to be surrounded by other innovative companies in the same field. Many of the events you that you guys put on are directly relevant for us, and the office itself is modern and well designed. Plus, it’s great to be in the centre of London’s tech hub.
We also get a more up-close and personal connection with Bosch whom we will increasingly look to for help in expansion both in the UK and internationally. We are very excited about the possibilities that the London Connectory offers.