TAMPA — The idea for Saravana Pat Bhava's startup, PikMyKid, came into focus the day in 2013 he was picking up his sixth-grade daughter, and administrators running the school's car line put his daughter in someone else's car and a strange kid in his car.
"That is when my trigger to do something about it started," Bhava says. Watching teachers use clipboards, walkie-talkies and sticky notes "running helter-skelter" to match students with parents on the fly was just too chaotic, he thought, so maybe there was a technology-based solution.
Since then, the Tampa startup has grown into a company with 14 employees and a school dismissal platform has been adopted by about 400 schools (including a few around the Tampa Bay area) in 32 states and six countries outside the United States, and it is about to get a high-profile test in Miami.
Last month, PikMyKid and another company, Soofa Sign, were picked as co-winners out of more than 130 competitors in Ford Motor Co.'s City of Tomorrow Challenge for Miami-Dade County.
The challenge: How to make getting around Miami-Dade — nobody's idea of a driver's paradise — an experience that's fresh, easy and adaptable to the needs of residents?
In 2019, Miami-Dade will bring PikMyKid to eight to 10 of its schools with the most vexing transportation problems, and contest sponsors will provide $50,000 for a pilot project. Bhava says the platform should not only help smooth out drop-offs and pickups on campus, but provide parents with real-time data to help tame school-related traffic away from campus.
Here's how it works: Depending on several variables that include the number of students, schools pay $4,000 to $6,000 a year to use PikMyKid. The platform sets up a digital geofence around the school, which detects anytime the cell phone of a parent or other driver registered to pick up a student enters the area. Administrators get a real-time list of who's in the car line, what position everybody's in and who has the authority to pick up which students that day.
"Nobody's running around," Bhava says. "The kids only come out of the school when they see their mom or dad is outside ready to pick them up. So the traffic flows smoother, kids are safer, and teachers are doing their (school work) and it actually saves them a lot of time."
PikMyKid, which has about 200,000 users, also gives parents information about traffic and weather conditions on the way to school, suggests carpooling with other families making similar trips and sends an alert to parents' phones when their students leave campus. The alerts are triggered by school personnel logging students' departures on an iPad.
Bhava says the alerts have given some parents who live close to schools the confidence to let their children walk or bike to and from school. That, plus the carpooling, stands to reduce school traffic, a major contributor to rush-hour congestion. And that, he says, helps spare local government the cost of infrastructure projects near schools to handle arrival and dismissal traffic.
"We need new solutions that make it simple for residents and visitors to understand their transportation options and know how to use them," Miami-Dade County director of transportation and public works Alice Bravo said in a statement. She said she believes PikMyKid and Soofa Sign, whose solar-powered signs provide updated transit and rideshare information, "will do just that."
"We see it as a great opportunity to really go in, prove our efficacy and prove that we can make a tangible impact," Bhava says, "not only to school safety but to mitigate traffic, engage the community and reduce liability for the schools."
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.