PickMe and Google: A Match Made In the Cloud

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Ever since it launched in 2015, PickMe has revolutionized the way we travel. At the press of a button, we can hail tuks, minis, sedans and even lorries to do our bidding. Now, almost 4 years later, their journey achieved yet another significant milestone. PickMe recently became one of Google Cloud’s key clients in South Asia. But what does it mean for consumers?

How PickMe finds the most suited ride for you

There’s a fair amount of technology that kicks in to place when you press the “Book Now” button. “There are a number of services working behind the scenes that try to see the nearest requested vehicle to the rider,” says Mithila Somasiri – Chief Technology Officer at Digital Mobility Solutions (Pvt) Ltd. For example, the first order of business would be to get the customer’s exact location. Once that is done, the next step would be to filter out the type of vehicle they are requesting.

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Be it a tuk, nano, sedan, van or even a bike, PickMe uses a number of algorithms to find your preferred vehicle (Image credits: Video Blocks)

From there, the service would find the closest vehicles and generate an exact time of arrival to the customer. A number of other parameters and constraints such as driver rankings and the driver’s directional preferences are evaluated before the final match is made. All these decisions are data-backed. On a typical day, PickMe will process around 80 million data points from various sources. This is to ensure that you get the best possible experience when you use the service.

One example is the algorithms in place that draw from data from previous PickMe rides to improve and predict arrival times and routes for riders. All of the algorithms are built in-house with some open source technologies thrown in as well. “We don’t believe in making everything from scratch”, Mithila added. Now all these services running in tandem requires a substantial amount of processing power. This is where Google plays its part.

So why partner with Google?

“Google takes care of our processing backbone, which is infrastructure,” says Mithila. This includes servers, networks, databases, and a lot more. Most importantly, all of this computing power must be reliable, flexible and scalable. For example, when it rains, the demand on the system can go up by 10X the usual load.

The system should be able to handle each and every incoming request and process them accordingly even under stress. At the same time, if there is less demand, the system should be able to scale down without wastage of resources. Google Cloud takes care of all this.

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Google Cloud provides a reliable, flexible and scalable infrastructure, making it the ideal cloud platform for PickMe. (Image Credits: TechCrunch)

Another important feature of Google that PickMe relies on is Google Maps. While you would use it to set your pickup location, PickMe drivers use this to navigate to your pickup location and also to your destination. From PickMe’s side, Google Maps is referred to as one of the data sources in time estimation, route calculations and distance calculations.

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Algorithms for the route, distance and time calculations are done by PickMe’s own development team

“We have our own maps as well,” Mithila shared referring to OSRM (Open Source Routing Machine). Google Maps can provide the shortest, fastest or the path suited for a particular vehicle type as well. Based on this input, the team at PickMe also add their own data.

They also use Google’s Data Analytics platform for Big Data analysis to improve customer experience. When you open the app, you see places of interest or place that you have visited previously appearing as suggestions. These are all thanks to the analytics carried out by PickMe’s data engineering team.

It’s all about commitment

Mithila shared that one of the key reasons that PickMe decided to go ahead with Google as its key platform provider was simply because of the commitment that Google showed towards PickMe. More than other service providers, Google saw that PickMe would have rapid growth. “As such, Google was ready for a long mutually beneficial journey with PickMe”, says Mithila. He added that they\ had been on Google for about a year now with everything going smoothly.

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Google and PickMe were ready for a long mutually beneficial partnership (Image Credits: PickMe)

“PickMe wasn’t just another customer that used Google’s services,” said Mithila as he shared that Google has come forward to fund some of PickMe’s R&D efforts. “When we want to use some of Google’s newer technologies, they allow us free access for experimenting and prototyping,” he added. When PickMe faced an internal resources shortage, Google also stepped up and gave PickMe access to some of its own resource partners to get the job done.

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Sujit Janardan – Head of Marketing, Google Cloud India, presenting at Google Cloud Day(Image Credits: PickMe)

So clearly, Google is as interested in PickMe as PickMe is interested in Google. And because of that, Google was willing to do more. This was seen at the recently held Google Day. Here, Sujit Janardan, Head of Marketing, Google Cloud India along with Jayadeep Jayaraman – Data Engineering Specialist from Google Cloud India came down to Sri Lanka to carry out a one-day session on some of Google’s new technologies for the benefit of PickMe’s staff.

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A snapshot of the Google Day organized by Google for PickMe (Image Credits: PickMe)

Nitin Bawankule Country Head – Google Cloud India shared that “I am sure with the knowledge shared and the potential opportunities that Google Cloud brings, we can further strengthen and accelerate PickMe’s business success”.

It doesn’t stop there though. Google has pulled out all the stops for PickMe. “They’ve got us on some of their online training programs and they are very frequently in contact with the team at PickMe” Mithila shared proudly. In this manner, Mithila and his team saw that both PickMe and Google were ready to be a part of something bigger.

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Jayadeep Jayaraman, Data Engineering Specialist – Google Cloud India presenting at Google Cloud Day (Image Credits: PickMe)

With Google, PickMe can stay ahead of the pack

The scalable dynamic and stable infrastructure, coupled with the power of Google Maps give PickMe all the required tools to be a pioneer in ride-hailing. But investing in technologies such as Google Maps is by no means cheap, says Mithila.

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Planning your route isn’t as cheap as it would seem

He explained that each call to the Google Maps API costs a certain amount of money. So for example, if the customer browses the map a lot on the app, each time they do so costs money. So as the number of requests increases, this cost multiplies. “But we have made that choice because we believe that the user experience it can create is very valuable,” he added.

“Obviously, everyone knows that Google leads in search, analytics and in some of the new world app development tech”, adds Mithila. Google is converting some of this tech into cloud services. Google DialogFlow and GKE or Google Kubernetes Engine are some recent examples, Mithila explained.

As such, the team at PickMe is all geared up to harness the power of these services to give the customer an even better experience. “When we get an idea from some of Google’s technologies, we can quickly take it to the market,” says Mithila. This, he added, is a big advantage.

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Achieving the impossible sounds impossible? Not for the team at PickMe

Mithila went on to explain that Google Cloud’s management tools give PickMe on-time alerts. These allow the team at PickMe to identify potential bugs or problems in the app and deal with them accordingly. With Google Cloud’s self-healing capabilities, even if Google’s Cloud servers crash, it would heal itself or launch appropriate countermeasures.

Fortune favors the bold

Mithila also shared that PickMe has plans to launch its service in other countries as well. “There is some real work happening to make it possible to launch the service in a different geographic region” he added. However, PickMe’s prime focus is to touch on all aspects of mobility in the lives of Sri Lankans. “We have rides, we have food and we have trucks,” says Mithila.

He added that PickMe is looking to dabble in parcel delivery and point-to-point delivery. “If you forget your charger at home, you can use this service to get it to you quickly and affordably”

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Need something delivered ASAP? PickMe might be able to help you out soon (Image Credits: NineDelivers)

Further, Mithila and the PickMe team are also working on improving the road hailing experience. In the not so distant future, if you see a road tuk and you get in, you would be able to pay for the ride with your credit card just as you would if you had hailed the tuk. You could even apply discount codes as well. Further, you will be able to share your trip with loved ones, have access to PickMe’s safety tool kit and even be able to print an invoice if you have to make a claim.

What does this partnership offer the customer?

“For the customer, it means fast and reliable service,” says Mithila. “It should be as reliable as the sunrise. When you need it, it should be there” he added. There is a continuous improvement process for the ETA of rides.

All this is, Mithila says, is to ensure that rides with PickMe arrive on time, take you on the fastest route, while also being the most affordable service. A three-pronged trident that Mithila and his team at PickMe are determined to polish and fine-tune.

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