To help drivers and travelers throughout France co-ordinate car-sharing and car-pooling, Carbip needed a flexible, scalable technology platform to help bring its innovative smartphone app to market.
By harnessing IBM Watson Data Platform, Carbip has built an app capable of scaling to support thousands of users and millions of journeys, and analyzing complex geolocational data in real time.
4 timesfaster development cycles, helping Carbip get new features to market quickly
Enhancesflexibility and scalability with easy-to-use NoSQL data structures
Maintainscontrol as the app grows with robust API frameworks and tools
Business challenge story
Turning personal vehicles into social vehicles
Eric Barault, Co-founder and Technical Director of Carbip, explains why the new Carbip smartphone app is set to revolutionize the way people use their cars.
“Cars are a brilliant way of getting around, but we don’t use them efficiently. Say you drive into the city one morning for a day of meetings with a client. Your car sits in a parking lot all day, taking up space and doing no good to anyone.
“Meanwhile, perhaps you have a friend who lives near where your car is parked. This friend does not own a car, because he lives downtown where there is abundant public transportation. However, on this particular day, he would like to take his family out to the countryside. He and his kids all have to catch a series of regional trains or buses, which is not practical.
“If he knew that your car was nearby, and that you didn’t need it for the day, and that you were willing to let him borrow it, and that his insurance would cover him, then your car could solve his problem. But that’s far too many ifs! Or at least, it was until Carbip.”
The Carbip app helps friends co-ordinate the use of their cars in a much smarter way than ever before. By learning from your driving behavior and habits, the app helps you build a schedule for your car—when you will be using it, where you will be driving, and when it will be available. Your friends can then ask to borrow or rent it, or can request a ride if you’re going to be driving near where they want to travel, and Carbip offers all the insurance you need for a monthly fee.
Eric Barault comments: “When we formed the company a year ago, we had a strong vision for the app we wanted to build, but we knew the technical challenges would be significant. To match our users up with the best car-sharing options requires our platform to continually capture geospatial data, and calculate positions, routes, proximities and intersections between paths in real time. Geolocational queries are a computationally intensive task, especially at scale—and we needed a platform that could potentially scale to thousands of users and millions of journeys.
“At the same time, we are a start-up. We don’t have the funds to invest in large-scale IT infrastructure, and we don’t have the resources in-house to manage it. So we needed a platform that would allow us to start small and then scale rapidly as our product begins to gain traction in the market—and one that would basically manage itself and allow us to focus on product development, not systems administration. So that’s where IBM came in.”
The road to success
Given its requirements for scalability and low up-front costs, Carbip quickly realized that a cloud-based platform would be the best option. It also knew that a NoSQL database platform would simplify development and increase flexibility as its application evolved.
Eric Barault comments: “We looked at most of the main NoSQL database technologies, and at the time, MongoDB was the obvious choice. It offered by far the best support for geolocated queries, which are the biggest requirement of our service.
“The next choice was how and where to run it. I come from a background of solution design and engineering for a company with a strong tradition of building everything for ourselves from bare metal. But that just wasn’t going to work for Carbip: we didn’t have time to spend administrating virtual machines and load-balancing.
“At the same time, though, we needed an infrastructure that wasn’t going to crash and burn when it came under load. That meant we needed a database-as-a-service, backed by a serious vendor.
“IBM Compose was the ideal option: it makes it so easy to set up a MongoDB cluster, manage it and scale it. Today, Compose means that we don’t need to worry about the database—we can just trust that it will be there, so we can focus on understanding our data and developing our business.”
To connect the cloud-based database to the app running on users’ smartphones, Carbip is also using IBM® API Connect™ to develop a robust, powerful application programming interface.
“A year ago we started using StrongLoop, an open source API framework which IBM has now acquired and built into API Connect,” says Eric Barault. “We were delighted about the acquisition, because StrongLoop was such an ambitious project, and we felt it needed the backing of a major company to fully realize its potential. We’re excited about working with IBM to develop it further.
He adds: “The biggest advantage of API Connect is the rigor that it brings to the development process. NoSQL databases like MongoDB are great because their data structures are so flexible—but if you’re not careful, you can end up with a very messy set of data.
“API Connect helps to structure, type, validate and document the data so that it’s easy to keep your data model clean. That means you can be a lot more robust in opening up your data via an API, because you can be confident in the results.
“Essentially, it lets you harness the power and scalability of NoSQL databases, while preserving the same kind of control that you get with a traditional relational database. So we can define objects like cars, drivers, journeys and timeslots, formalize the relationships between them, and then easily run powerful queries that bring the data together in meaningful ways.”
The server-side Carbip application uses IBM Cloud to connect the application logic (built on Node.js) with the Compose database service, and with the mobile app running on end-users’ smartphones.
Eric Barault adds: “Cloud is more than just a platform for our application servers, it’s a gateway to a whole host of additional services that we can easily integrate into our platform, if and when the business need arises.”
Driving social transportation forwards
With IBM Compose and API Connect powering its development process, Carbip estimates that it has been able to get its app to market twice as quickly.
“When we first started out, we tried developing our own API framework,” says Eric Barault. “If we had continued down that road, I think we would only be 50 percent of the way through development by now. Whereas we actually launched on Android two weeks ago, and our iOS app is nearly ready too. So choosing the right IBM technologies has helped us turn Carbip from a bright idea into a viable product in less than 12 months.”
Going forwards, the company expects to maintain or even increase the impressive pace of its development.
“When you’re trying to build a social app like ours, the biggest challenge isn’t the route-planning and scheduling algorithms—it’s the human relationships between our users, which constantly reveal surprising behaviors and opportunities that we could never have anticipated,” says Eric Barault. “So flexibility and agility are absolutely key. You need a set of technologies that you can use to iterate your designs quickly, without having to go back and refactor the whole framework every three months. And you need a scalable, flexible cloud platform that is capable of expanding quickly to support more complex requirements and larger numbers of users.”
He concludes: “With Watson Data Platform, we can get new features to market up to four times faster, helping Carbip fuel a revolution in social driving throughout France—and perhaps across Europe and around the world in the years to come.”
Founded in 2015, Carbip is a French application development company that focuses on building innovative solutions for car-sharing and car-pooling. The Carbip app, available on Android and iOS smartphones, allows users to build schedules, lend their cars to friends, and even co-ordinate journeys in real time to help people make the most efficient use of their vehicles.
- API Connect
Take the next step
IBM Watson Data Platform offers a complete portfolio of data and analytics services providing unique and seamless product integrations to build apps faster and gain new insights easier with flexible deployment and pricing options. For more information about how IBM Watson Data Platform can help businesses solve tough big data problems rapidly and cost-effectively, please visit ibm.com/analytics/us/en/watson-data-platform/