R-Mitra app puts safety first for rail passengers
A chance meeting with a railway official in Kolkata in early 2015 motivated entrepreneur Rakesh Mehta to develop an application to monitor the safety and security of Eastern Railway passengers.
Mehta’s application, called Railway Mobile Instant Tracking Response and Assistance (R-Mitra), is based on the global positioning system (GPS) and supervises the safety and security of passengers, especially women. Also part of the project are a server and desktop application for the railway control room.
The basic function of the application is to alert the nearest railway station in the zone in case of an emergency at the press of a button. The geographical location of the person facing the emergency is sent to the nearest railway station with the help of GPS and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) when the button is pressed, enabling authorities to act immediately.
The R-Mitra application was a winner in the Smart Settlements and Urbanization category at the Mbillionth Awards 2016, organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.
Sitting in his small office with electrical wires strewn about, Mehta, founder and chief processing officer (CPO) of Technofection Software Pvt. Ltd, reminisces about his company’s only government assignment till date, which was initially delayed and later executed in a hurry.
Technofection, which provides web and software solutions, is now working on a few projects for private sector clients.
Mehta said the railway authorities were looking to develop a commuter safety app and different railways zones were asked to champion devices that would ensure passenger safety.
“I was told by a client that Eastern Railway, too, is trying to develop an app for the same,” he said, adding that the client organized a meeting between him and a railway official.
After many meetings, Mehta, who was keen to collaborate with the Eastern Railway, was asked to give a single demonstration of the app for which he was promised a sum of Rs50,000.
However, the pre-launch demo never happened and despite many meetings, the Eastern Railway did not hand him an official work order.
“I did some work on the application out of my own interest but everything was quiet for 3-4 months,” Mehta said, adding that he had no idea what caused the delay in preparing the work order.
But in late July 2015, he suddenly received a call from the Eastern Railway officials enquiring about the status of the project as railway minister Suresh Prabhu was scheduled to visit Kolkata and inaugurate the project.
The officials then asked Mehta to speed up the development process.
The application was developed in 15-20 days and launched by Prabhu in August, Mehta said.
At present, users can download the app from the Google Play Store and install it on their smartphones. Though its development was outsourced to Technofection, the app belongs to Eastern Railway. Once the app is installed, the user needs to fill in personal information and save the details. Since its launch, the app has been downloaded more than 20,000 times.
Three key technologies were used to create this app. The mobile apps were created with Ionic and AngularJS and the desktop application was built using .NET, which runs on Windows PCs, devices and servers. For mapping services, it has used Google Maps.
While developing the software wasn’t really a challenge for Mehta, who has a diploma in computer science, scalability is. For further design upgrades, expansion and promotion, the firm needs support of the railways.
Technofection has invested over Rs5 lakh to develop the system, but due to the lack of a work order, it has only received the payment promised for a single demo, said Mehta.
“We can still maintain it but beyond a point, it is not possible without railways’ help and their eagerness to continue with this initiative. The project was not moving because there is hardly any coordination between different departments of railways and it seems the government heeds only the renowned companies,” he said.
Born and brought up in Jirat village in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, Mehta first set up an IT firm, AM Soft, in 2004 in partnership with a friend in Kolkata. Almost at the same time, he received an offer to work for Ahmedabad-based software firm Silicon Valley eSolutions Pvt. Ltd and decided to move to Gujarat though he continued to bring orders for his existing business in Kolkata.
However, when he came back six years later and took charge of his partnership business, he realised it had not grown at all during the period. An ideology mismatch with his partner led Mehta to part ways and he converted AM Soft to AM Infosystems Pvt. Ltd in 2011. However, this did not work out either, since Mehta’s partner in this new venture was based out of Maharashtra and could not devote enough time.
In January 2014, Mehta formed Technofection along with his old team of developers and at present employs 18 people including IT engineers and sales staff. Mehta is currently working on a vehicle tracking system for private firms.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.