One for the road

One for the road

Safety conscious Zoe Farrington tells Brian Nicholls how she and Andrew Richardson are on a big lifesaving push this year to have their acclaimed and innovative app, a global first, taken up by half a million UK bikers

There’s a motor-cycling fatality almost daily in the UK. But if this dreadful toll shows signs of diminishing this year that may reflect in part on the website and safety app that Zoe Farrington and Andrew Richardson have developed in the North East of England – the only app worldwide that connects a user directly to emergency services.

This is the year of big growth planned for the REALRIDER® app with its potentially lifesaving REALsafe® communication about to be rolled out nationally, only 11 months since its first major public demonstration.

More than 12,000 motorcyclists already have the app installed in their smartphones, knowing that by turning on the REALsafe® part of the app before riding off, they would in any accident be automatically connected by their phone to an ambulance service for response. An ultimate UK membership of half a million is expected.

Cynics who sometimes suggest motor-cyclists invite danger upon themselves might consider that as a fatal accident can cost up to £1m or so to investigate, REALsafe® carries both a lifesaving and a financial value.

With funding secured in July 2012, Farrington and Richardson got their initial launches underway from last February, firstly at the London Motorcycle Show then last November at the Motorcycle Live Show in Birmingham, with other motorcycle events visited in between. A new community of bikers grows bigger by the week.

And as Farrington points out: “So far we’ve really only taken REALRIDER® to market on a proof of concept basis. We wanted to show its capability while continuing to develop the app and the platform. We haven’t done a lot of publicity and marketing yet. So 2014 is our planned year of big growth, and I think our shareholders are very pleased with the outcome to date.”

Adding authority to the concept, a Home Office working party on which the Realrider company serves is considering how apps like REALRIDER® can be further developed for other emergency situations.

Realrider, with agreements on the 999 and 111 Government Liaison Committee, can now be accepted into the telematic system, following its successful pilot, and be included instead in the basic 999 emergency system, thus becoming truly national, with signals gathered from the strongest service provider in any given area of an incident – so assisting any ambulance service in the country. The successful pilot was run through the North East Ambulance Service, allowing for refinements and tolerance settings to be adjusted within the app at the same time.

John Rowland, control systems manager for the North East Ambulance Service, has never doubted the value of REALRIDER® - “a brilliant application, with potential to save bikers’ lives by helping us get medical attention to their accidents much faster,” he says.

REALsafe® has been endorsed by motorcycle manufacturers too, including Honda and Triumph, and a prospect has been raised by Yamaha of a REALRIDER® app being given free with every new bike sold. A contract with the RAC is also likely soon, as accolades grow: from the Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists, BMS, the British Motorcycle Federation, Motorcycle Industry Association and the Highways Agency.

For a region where innovation is being loudly championed, REALRIDER® can be seen as a notable endeavour. Richardson has always lived in the region, and Farrington has done so since coming to study at Northumbria University 20 years ago.

In their matchfunded venture, they themselves have invested £40,000, and £400,000 has been invested to date by the Newcastle based entrepreneurs’ fund manager Rivers Capital Partners. The North East entrepreneur Hossain Rezaie, chairman and chief executive of The You Company (which mentors and fosters other businesses besides its own start-ups) is chairman of the business, and the leading private individual investor. He’s obviously bullish about the company’s growth potential and valued by the business creators.

Business back-up and guidance has been provided also by RMT the Newcastle based business advisors and accountants, and by Newcastle Science City. So it’s a fully regional enterprise. Farrington and Richardson had already worked for more than a decade alongside the public sector turning out education, training and publicity resources targeting bikers.

Their endeavours to engage with riders, reduce the accident toll and promote skills earned them Prince Michael International Road Safety Awards.

They’d originally met at an advertising agency in Newcastle, where Richardson’s remit was to grow the public sector client base. Farrington was brought in to support. A couple of years on, the agency offered to sell them that part of the business. They set up Fused, a public sector marketing consultancy at River Green in Durham, and in their first year, 2005, turned over £1m through various national contracts.

They developed links with many of the emergency services, all of whom offered ideas on making motorcycling safer. A major concern was that while a crashed bike was usually easy to locate, a thrown rider was not, and every second spent in a search could mean a second lost in the fight to save a life. Farrington and Richardson put their heads together on this, and REALRIDER® app was the outcome. They created their Realrider start-up and worked closely for more than a year with Stephen Slater, director at RMT, refining the business model. Once Rivers Capital Partners got involved, finance from the £7.5m Finance For Business North East Angel Fund emerged. Then Newcastle Science City stepped in. Dave Stevens, business support manager there, considers the product “truly innovative - a successful testament to innovation and research and development going on in the North East now.” And, says Farrington: “With that support we were able to carry out necessary market research that has since led to 12,000 subscribers thinking the app as vital as putting on their helmets.

“The motorcycling community’s appetite is proving as great as we’d imagined,” she adds.

“Our first aim was to create the industry’s most comprehensive and interactive community, and we’ve certainly got a very receptive and involved user base. Members let us know quickly which parts of the app’s services they find most useful, and what else they’d like to see introduced.”

Stephen Slater at RMT, says: “The business plan has been carried out impressively and precisely by Zoe, Andrew and their team. Their success in securing financial backing shows how much investor confidence exists, both in them and their services.”

They’ve done it with three full-time employees, an intern and some part-time help. Initially the two business builders lacked vital technical expertise. But a shareholder introduced them to Dave Sharp, who became technical officer. “An absolutely fabulous find,” say Farrington. He brought with him a background in games development, and experience of working with the like of Virgin and Viacom.

How it works

The app’s accident technology uses complex algorithms connected to a smartphone’s GPS and motion and tilt sensors determine when a crash has occurred. The motion sensors detect the crash automatically, and instantly alert the rider’s phone. If not cancelled, the device goes on to contact the ambulance service giving location and medical details of the rider (otherwise protected by data law).

Members also have access to an emergency location finding service that uses GPS and WiFi technology to help any riders in difficulties.

There’s a social side to REALRIDER® too. Its web and mobile network enables riders to meet each other, share spectacular routes and points of interest along the way through images and chat in real-time and by location. The app records routes and synchronises with where subscribers see, edit and share the favoured rides. Hazard warnings can be circulated too.

They have their own online ‘garage’ on the website. There they can add their current bike or a timeline of bikes they’ve owned. REALRIDER® then adds manufacturers’ product information, images, videos and instruction manuals. So a collection of nostalgic memorabilia or simply useful bike-related information is built up.

An annual subscription to REALsafe® is £25 on iOS and Android phones. At the time of writing no life or death emergencies had been recorded. But the technology had been triggered 18 times and there have been what’s described as ‘a few close calls’.

It was thought originally that any spread abroad would start in Europe. But enquiries about the service to date have come from Australia and the USA, and talks have been held with a party in Dubai that sounded quite committed to operating under licence in the Arabian Gulf region and Africa. Meanwhile, Andrew and Zoe hope to find time soon to become bikers themselves.