Nigerian Entrepreneurs Build Machine Learning Platform To Deal With Nightmarish Lagos Traffic

Dont talk to me about traffic until you try to drive in Lagos!

A few days back, we published Pat Utomi Is Right – 5 Reasons Why Nigeria Is The Most Miserable Place To Live On Earth.

In that article, we discussed why transportation makes Nigeria such a miserable place to live. Much of the nation’s transportation issues can be blamed on corruption, but thanks to the intelligence of Nigerians on the ground, solutions are being developed without the government and it’s corruption.

Lara.ng is one of those solutions. From Techcabal:

Nigeria has been unable to fix its transportation problems partly because it hasn’t found a way to apply data in useful ways. To develop a useful public transportation system, it needs to be able to apply data – where it has any – in ways that ultimately make the life of the average Nigerian easier.

But the so-called ‘giant of Africa’ is not out of options.

The people at Lara.ng are building an interesting product that leverages new technologies like AI and Machine Learning to solve an everyday transportation need for the average Nigerian – and they have the data to get it done. Lots of it.

The beginning Their journey began in 2012 when, on a flight from New York to London, Lara.ng CEO Samuel Odeloye had a conversation with a stranger about getting around in London – a city they had both never been to before. It turned out, it wasn’t hard – London had a well developed road network and public transport system that offered tons of information at every point.

This was possible, in part, because the UK government had data that could help it understand how people were using transport infrastructure and use that context to provide a more enriching, deliberate experience.

In comparison, Lagos, where Odeloye grew up, is a completely different animal.

Its traffic jams suck the life out of you, the terrible roads threaten your life and getting around – as a tourist or resident – can be torturous.

But Odeloye figured useful data that provided insight into mobility patterns and public transit dynamics could help make the maze that is Lagos a little less cumbersome to navigate.

His chosen areas of focus? Public transportation and mobility.

In 2013, he partnered with Opeoluwa Bada who came on as CTO at the time (he left the company in 2015 for personal reasons) and software engineer, Nnamdi Nwanze, whom he had met at NYSC camp and served with at Bells University, to create MyRP, a mobility solution that offered driving and public transit directions in Lagos.

Data Collection and Version One Over the next year they set about gathering and structuring data, mapping transit routes across different vehicle types, local rates, bus stops and other data points of interest.

Odeloye said the data trove they acquired during that period would become instrumental in building Lara.ng. They launched the platform in 2014 and together they built MyRP to ~12,000 social media followers and 1500 signups on the web app. But they were not making any money and finding a suitable business model was proving to be difficult. They even flirted with a model that involved people paying for directions, an idea they came up with after a meeting with Hotels.ng CEO Mark Essien in 2015.

After an October 2016 meeting with a mentor at iDEA Hub, they decided to re-strategize and figure out another approach. By the end of 2016, they had phased out MyRP.

Armed with MyRP data which gave them an edge in understanding mobility patterns, insights into city planning and lifestyle trends of Lagosians, Odeloye, Nwanze and new co-founder Ladi Ojora launched Lara.ng in 2017.

It is a mobility solution that offers driving and public transit directions in Lagos (like MyRP) but differentiated with the application of machine learning, artificial intelligence and a directions layer.

You could describe it as a text-based Google Assistant for public transportation in Lagos, with a WhatsApp-esque interface.

The team drew on Odeloye’s product design and data acquisition chops as well as Nwanze’s machine learning expertise and Ojora’s transportation infrastructure management skills to build the product. Lara.ng offers up public transit directions across transportation modes complete with price estimates – with an option to share or use a rideshare service, all in a conversational format.

A user only needs to type in a query like “From Obalende, Lagos to Ajah Bus Stop” and Lara will provide step-by-step directions and price estimates.

Lara.ng is also built using Google’s progressive web app platform which makes it light and usable under slow network conditions. Understanding User Behavior Through Data Lara.ng’s proprietary data helps it understand the mobility patterns of its users, according to Odeloye.

Thanks to machine learning, Lara.ng can understand how often a user plies a particular route, how much they spend on the average, their most visited places among other interesting data points. The data Lara.ng has gathered so far also allows the team to gain unique insights into how city planning intersects with service delivery in public transportation.

Lara has a super clean and easy to use text based interface.

 

Ultimately, this type of data could help design better, smarter cities as well as efficient public transportation systems to compliment them. Another interesting dataset from Lara.ng’s proprietary data trove are the lifestyle trends of users. They can deduce information like how often people visit cinemas for example, or the most plied routes during the rainy season. Of course, these data points offer up interesting advertising/money-making opportunities, which the team hopes to take advantage of at some point.

Building from the pocket Up until a recent Facebook FBStart $25K grant, Lara.ng has been completely self-funded.

When It’s all said and done The opportunities Lara.ng’s investment in data collection open up for fixing the state of public transportation and mobility in Nigeria are immense.

In spite of a disinterest in data collection and optimization by the powers that be, the value of deliberate data collection and application in building an efficient public transit system, or designing better, smarter cities, is there for all to see in the Lara.ng product.

From infrastructure to city planning and mobility trends, a unique marriage of technology and data has the potential to birth a new age of socio-economic advancement in Nigeria. Lara.ng is proof of that.

Written by Asad Malik

Asad is the Executive Officer of The Pan-African Alliance, and the Founder of United Black America.

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