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The cycling app harnessing satellite data – giving you more choice about your route

(Image Credit: Huli)

Huli is the newest start-up at the Higgs Centre for Innovation, at Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE). They join the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK) programme with an ambition to get more people cycling – through their innovative new app, Huli.

The Huli tech

The Huli app has been created to generate personalised cycling routes – anywhere in the UK and Ireland.

Traditional route planners make users plot their own routes or rely on user generated content. What makes Huli different is that its software algorithms automatically create personalised routes anywhere without user content. They do this by meshing Earth observation data with open-sourced Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data, giving users the power to set their own parameters for their cycling experience.

The app allows the cyclist to select their own start and end points; choose the length of the cycle; how long they would like to ride for; as well as their preferred elevation of the route.

The ESA BIC UK programme and the Huli ambition

The ESA BIC UK programme provides one to two years of business incubation for space-related, high-growth-potential start-ups – supporting companies through access to funding, a network of collaborators and investors; as well state-of-the-art facilities and technical support.

What does Huli want to have achieved when they graduate from the ESA BIC UK programme?

“The app, which is available now on GooglePlay and Apple App store, is free. This is our basic service, offering our users the option to create their own personalised routes wherever they are,” says Dr Steve Owens (CEO and Co-founder).

“By the end of our incubation on the ESA BIC UK programme we will have commercialised our product, and rolled out a premium offering – with add-on features to the basic free package such as:

  1. Navigation: This will be a bit like Google Maps. Attach your phone to your handle bar – and audio and visual prompts will guide you around your route.

  2. Goal-oriented route generation: We are also building in the capability for generating a training plan. So, for example, if a user signs up for a cycling event – the app can create a training plan for them – to help them train towards the event.

“We have a business product too. Customers can have a white label version of Huli on their website, or can access our routing engine through our API depending on their needs. We’re already starting to see some traction around this in the tourism and corporate wellness sectors. This product will link in an analytics dashboard – so organisations can gain fantastic user insight as well as measure their sustainability – for example CO2 emissions – as a result of supporting low carbon transport options.

“In the future, we will also be building in weather and air quality data from Earth observation satellites to provide the user with complete control. Our ambition too is that the app, which currently offers UK and Ireland-wide coverage, will go Global – used by anyone, anywhere. Additionally, although it is being developed for cycling, we plan to also address running, walking and hiking.”

The benefits for Huli, being based at the Higgs Centre for Innovation

The Higgs Centre for Innovation is a collaboration between the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of Edinburgh – combining business incubation with expertise in world-class research in astronomy and world-class engineering in the design and build of the science instruments for the world’s major telescopes.

Steve comments: “Handling big data is a key area where the expertise of the team at the Higgs can help us. We gather a lot of anonymised route data and we want to use this to better the experience for the end users. For example, we may initially project that your route will take an hour but in actual fact you took two. We can analyse that data to figure out where the network bottlenecks are and make sure that we have an accurate prediction for you next time around.

“Through STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) and the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Astronomy – both on-site ROE – we have access to scientists and engineers with expertise in big data handling. Teams at ROE not only handle the vast amounts of data generated from observing time on telescopes; but also in the design and development of the ground-breaking software tools to manage the data pipeline for some of the world’s largest and most productive ground-based telescopes.

“Through the University of Edinburgh we also have access to SCOTDIST – the SCOTtish Data Intensive Science Triangle (which is a collaboration between the Universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews and Glasgow). We are connecting with PhD students at SCOTDIST to learn more about how to organise and process big data.”

Julian Dines, Head of Innovation, The Higgs Centre for Innovation, says “The Higgs Centre is at the heart of the space and big-data ecosystem in central-belt Scotland. We are looking forward to being able to support Huli in their ambitions for commercialisation and growth. We will be assisting them in both technical and business aspects, and connecting them to the vast network of organisations who can prove additional support to them in Scotland – and, via STFC, across the UK.”

The BIG idea

A few years back Chris and Steve planned a cycling trip through the Alps and found that they spent more time planning it than riding it. They realised there was an opportunity to address this through automatic route creation – to save the user time and encourage them to try new stuff.

“Ultimately we believe that everyone should spend more time outdoors. By making cycling convenient, and providing people with the confidence to cycle by creating inspiring routes that feel right for them, we think we can encourage long-term behaviour change. Change that not only gets more people cycling, but accelerates the shift to decarbonised transport,” says Steve.

To find out how the Huli cycling app is helping to tackle ‘the lockdown bulge’.


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