Don’t Get Lost, Use Mapkin: Navigation App Taps Boston-Driver Wisdom

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated, 9/17/15. See below] Back-to-school traffic driving you crazy? Uber and taxi drivers going in circles? There’s a new mobile app that might help solve those problems (in the street, not the State House).

It’s called Mapkin, and it’s basically trying to be a smarter, more personal GPS navigator. It also fits with the tech themes of augmented reality, crowdsourcing, and speech-based virtual assistants. The app is available as a free download in the iOS store, and as of today it’s launching nationally.

Mapkin gives you turn-by-turn voice directions, but in a way that tries to emulate having a local guide riding with you. It takes in tips from other drivers in the area, by voice input, and compiles personalized instructions, which it blends with standard GPS navigation and real-time traffic info. So it can say things like, “Take a left just after the gas station,” or “Watch out for the parked cars on Mem. Drive.”

The Boston-area company is led by co-founder and CEO Marc Regan. He’s a veteran of speech giant Nuance Communications, where he was an engineer and manager on such projects as Dragon Dictation, Dragon Search, and Dragon Go apps. Regan is also a co-founder of Alpinewerx, which makes rock-climbing guide apps.

Regan sees a big opportunity in “creating a safer, less stressful, more natural driving experience,” he says in an e-mail.

The challenge for any app like this will be attracting a big enough community to be useful (and make money). But if you’re wondering what the payoffs could be, well, just count the Waze—the traffic and navigation app bought by Google for a price tag in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

Asked about Mapkin’s revenue model, Regan didn’t give any specifics. “The app is going to be free as we focus on growing our community,” he says. “We have a variety of ideas around monetization in the future.” [This paragraph was added for context—Eds.]

Mapkin went through the Techstars Boston startup accelerator in 2014. Not surprisingly, the company started out testing its app with a community of local drivers. “We’ve mostly focused on covering Boston with tips while the product was in development, so the driving experience here is already quite rich, and getting better every day,” Regan says. But the goal is to expand quickly.

“If we can make Boston easier to drive in, we can do it anywhere,” he says.