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Local firm paves way for seamless commuter experience

Mr Bhattacharyya's home-grown firm Quantum Inventions was selected last month as one of four companies that will provide journey-planning applications to commuters, in partnership with the Land Transport Authority.
Mr Bhattacharyya's home-grown firm Quantum Inventions was selected last month as one of four companies that will provide journey-planning applications to commuters, in partnership with the Land Transport Authority.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Former NTU researcher turns entrepreneur, specialising in navigation technologies

A former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, once said: "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, but where the rich take public transport."

This statement is exactly what drives Mr Saurav Bhattacharyya, co-founder and chief executive of home-grown technology firm Quantum Inventions, in his line of work.

The 38-year-old tells The Straits Times: "If you go to places where public transport is very good - just look at New York, London, Tokyo or Hong Kong - people actually prefer to take the public transport even if they can afford a car.

"That's our vision, as a company, to be able to provide technologies that can make (such) public transport a reality, be it in Singapore or other countries."

Quantum Inventions, set up in 2005, specialises in technologies for intelligent transport systems, real-time traffic information services, and routing and navigation on cloud architectures, as well as mobile and navigation devices. It is perhaps best known for its Galactio brand of navigation software used in Global Positioning System devices for cars.

Today, the company is that much closer to achieving its vision.

The firm was selected last month as one of four companies that will provide journey-planning applications to commuters, in partnership with the Land Transport Authority.

Under this partnership, the firm will create an app that allows commuters to plan the best routes to their destinations by drawing on all available modes of transport, from bus to train, to cycling and even walking.

"It is hoped that we can maybe influence drivers' behaviour and make it easier for them to take public transport," said Mr Bhattacharyya, adding that the app is expected be available from year end.

He added: "Everything comes down to convenience. Motorists will not get out of the car because they've already paid a huge sum to get the car. But the convenience is what might help."

Mr Bhattacharyya goes on to illustrate how the app could be used: On a particularly rainy day, the roads would be congested, which means a driver - with a lot of work to do - would likely be stuck on the roads.

He gets a notification through the app on his mobile phone on where the traffic jam is, but he also gets information about a bus or train service which has a seat available. Following the route mapped out on the app, he parks the car, takes the bus or the train and, along the way, walks under sheltered walkways, until he reaches his destination.

"There is no such... information for commuters now," said Mr Bhattacharyya. "But here's where the collaboration with the Government can help. It gives us access to the right data, real-time data, which we then manage to provide a pretty seamless experience that can be useful for everybody."

Mr Bhattacharyya, who previously worked as a researcher in embedded systems and biometrics at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), went into this line when he decided he had enough of writing research papers.

"As a researcher, you print a lot of papers but none of that goes to fruition in the market. So I went to commercialise technology instead," he said, noting that Quantum Inventions turned operational in 2006 after buying a routing algorithm developed by NTU.

It was tough in the beginning, he said, especially in "getting the first dollar of revenue", and the difficulties continued even later.

"When I got married in Singapore in 2013, I couldn't enjoy my wedding thoroughly enough, largely because the company, while not insolvent, was close to $500,000 in the red. We were purchasing the assets of another firm back then and expanding aggressively," he recalled.

Still, the company has been profitable in the last three years. It has sales operations in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and counts among its clients big-name corporates such as Singtel, Vodafone (Middle East), Toyata Tsusho and Google.

In fact, the aim is to reach revenues of close to $50 million in the next four years, said Mr Bhattacharyya, who was born in India but came to Singapore in 1996 at 17 under an NTU computer science scholarship. He recently participated in the Young Leaders Symposium at the World Cities Summit, and his accolades include winning the Young Innovator Award in the Land Transport Excellence Awards in 2010.

Mr Bhattacharyya said the company plans to focus on growing its footprint in South-east Asia, which has a "huge growth potential", India and the Middle East.

"But we want to grow with a purpose. Transportation is a very local challenge. It's not like you can take a model from the United States and just plonk it in here - you have to be locally sensitive. And if we can overcome that challenge and help people ride public transport, that system could be something that can hold for decades after."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Local firm paves way for seamless commuter experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe