Australian university campus tracking app OTTO has global expansion in its sights

- January 22, 2016 4 MIN READ

Getting lost on campus is a rite of passage for new university students. Remember the time you first walked into university and were amazed at all the buildings and rooms? It’s like a scene out of Hogwarts but there’s no Marauders Map to show you every classroom, hallway and corner of your new campus. Magic still hasn’t been invented yet, so in the meantime we rely on technology and digital mapping systems to help us lost students find our way.

Google Maps and the generic mapping systems universities have produced don’t do much to help a lost student find their classroom. Much time is spent by first year students asking information for directions and following the crowd. Aussie tracking app OTTO wants to help curb the freshman embarrassment by improving our campus maps, planning to launch to all university, TAFE, and college students not only around Australia but around the world.

OTTO is an Australian wayfinding and campus tracking app for students that provides highly detailed versions of campus maps through a bird’s eye view. Students can see themselves on the map to determine how far away they are in relation to certain points of interest. These points of interest include buildings, classrooms, elevators and even ATMs. Users are given the option to search and filter points of interest into categories, for example students can do a tech search for every ATM on campus, which is conducted through a live search.

“The point of difference here to Apple Maps or Google Maps is that we’ve been soliciting the help of cartographers to actually design highly detailed versions of these campus maps, so all the buildings are there, unlike those sorts of mainstream mapping applications,” said Jamie Skella, cofounder of OTTO.

Students, visitors, and staff members can download OTTO from the App Store and are given three key features: live bus tracking, searchable locations, and improved campus maps. Live bus tracking is a feature that shows buses moving on the map as they appear live in real time.

The idea for live bus tracking was developed out of a close relationship between OTTO and Curtin University in Perth. The university encountered many problems when it came to the efficiency of their campus, which included the inability to track their buses and make that information visible to students.

“A lot of students were congregating around bus stops and this was posing concerns, and then of course there was the added risk of somebody waiting alone at night. The reason they weren’t arriving on time was because along the pre-routes students can hail those buses at any stage, so when you’re outside of campus there are no stops per se, and of course that leads to the schedules ultimately being almost close to useless,” explained Skella.

Along with the display of buses, which has since solved the problem of congestion outside Curtin University, students can also search for locations on and surrounding their campus. Searchable locations is a mapping tool to help students find their classroom, but even extends to bike tracks and where to find the nearest vending machine, which we all know is the most important point of interest on campus.

The more specific the search the more specific the result. For example students can type in the exact name of a building i.e building 402 and only that result will be displayed. Students can then share that location via SMS to students, visitors or teachers, even if the receivers don’t have the OTTO app. Receivers can see the map in their Safari web browser presented in a webview fashion.

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Improved campus maps presents students with buildings, paths and car parks that are presented with accuracy that far exceeds Google and Apple Maps. There are however other applications such as Lost on Campus, Australia’s biggest mapping app, with support for over 40 campuses in Australia and over 100,000 users. Lost on Campus offers mapping, top rated cafes based on location, and updates their system monthly. OTTO however has added features and hopes to rival their way finding system.

“What OTTO delivers is above and beyond that, we allow you to track intercampus transport vehicles and track them live and display them on a map for students to see them travelling on their route. And we also provide campus and student messaging, campus security integration, as well as the ability for students to see their riends live on campus as well and communicate with them,” Skella said.

OTTO aims to offer additional and more complex features that will help students integrate into campus life seamlessly. Their show of support can be seen from their first angel round, led by Blackwood Capital, where they received $1.4 million. In the next round they aim to hit $5 million, which will help them expand their technology around Australia and prove its superiority against competitors.

Currently the OTTO tracking system is available at Curtin University in Perth, however by the time semester one begins in a few months’ time, Skella and his team expect to launch in every university in Western Australia before covering Melbourne and Sydney.

Over the course of the 2016 student year we hope to bring on at least twenty to thirty campuses across a number of institutions. We’re talking to TAFE’s at the moment, we’re talking to polytechnics and a bunch of universities as well.”

The current model of OTTO has a licensing agreement with Curtin University, who pay them per student for the access and support of the app. OTTO manages the app and the infrastructure that supports it, while the university can manage their point of interest data. For example the app also offers students and teachers a messaging system allowing teachers to send messages to students to alert them of building closures.

By the end of the year Skella and his team hope to cover most institutions in Australia and have already started looking at market opportunities beyond Australia, including the US where there are around 4,000 institutions, whereas Australia only has 100.

Image: Jamie Skella and Mike Boyd. Source: Supplied