For an estimated 3 million wheelchair users in the US, city sidewalks pose a barrier to mobility and independence. A new startup, pathVu, is working to change that with an app, which will build a global map of sidewalks to improve accessibility, walkability, and safety of sidewalks.
Based in Pittsburgh, the company reports that its pathVu app will not only improve accessibility for wheelchair users, people with visual impairments, and the elderly, but would improve the ease-of-use of public transportation for all pedestrians. As a result, pathVu has been selected as one of eight finalists in the BNY Mellon Social Innovation Challenge sponsored by the Bank of New York Mellon, BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and The Forbes Funds. The winner of the Challenge’s $800,000 UpPrize will be announced at the event finale on July 31 in Pittsburgh.
Crowdsourcing App to Construct real-time Map
Eric Sinagra, Co-Founder and CEO of pathVu (pictured on the left with the rest of the team), shared with social-startups.de that its app gives users the ability to help their communities by identifying and reporting sidewalk hazards. With this real-time information, pedestrians use the app to find the safest and quickest route to their destinations. Cities can use the data to make timely repairs to public walkways. Sinagra, an alumn of University of Pittsburgh, said he was inspired to research sidewalk accessibility because of the challenges his brother faced in navigating the streets of Pittsburgh in a wheelchair. He began developing the idea for the pathVu app while working on his master’s thesis. Through his research, he determined that the best way to improve accessibility would be to create a crowdsourcing app that pedestrians could access through mobile devices.
Startup Seeks to Build Sidewalk Database
Currently, pathVu relies on pedestrians to voluntarily upload information to its app, a process that typically takes five to ten seconds, but the company is also looking at encouraging data contribution through a pay-for-data model in order to more quickly populate its database.
The company hopes to further build its user base through partnering with local and national organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the MS Society. Also, pathVu looks to extend its success in working with Zipcar to other commercial partners.
Once the company amasses the data it needs, the pathVu app will become a critical way-finding tool for pedestrians. “Our vision is to be the Google Maps of sidewalks,” stated Sinagra.
Growth Plans Depend on Funding
The company’s ultimate goal is to make its app a widely-used tool for multi-modal navigation (e.g., walking, wheelchair, running, bus, subway, or biking). However, pathVu’s key focus is to help vulnerable populations to improve their quality of life through safer navigation of city sidewalks.
The biggest challenge facing pathVu is lack of funding, but Sinagra hopes to meet that challenge at the UpPrize competition later this month. The prize would allow pathVu to finish mapping the city of Pittsburgh and fully develop the app’s way-finding capabilities.
“After mapping Pittsburgh, we’ll branch out to other cities that are already known as walkable cities and from there go globally to map sidewalks or trails,” said Sinagra.
About the author
Parisa Jade Baharian is a Washington, DC-based contributor. She currently works as a freelance writer, editor, and research consultant. Parisa has over nine years of experience in business intelligence collection and analysis across a range of industries and market segments. Her writing covers a broad spectrum of topics, including education and social innovation. In her spare time, she enjoys martial arts and mentoring kids.