Road to Rio: Australian app helps Olympic visitors get around Rio

14 Jul 2016

Author: Simon Webster



Claus von Hessberg is driven by a vision of a greener transport future. His company SkedGo develops innovative transport apps such as RioGo - specifically designed for visitors attending the 2016 Rio Olympics. The service platform upon which his apps are based could transform travel as we know it.
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For the 500,000 visitors arriving in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, navigating their way around the sprawling city will be made easier with RioGo.

RioGo is a trip- and event-planning app developed by SkedGo, a Sydney-based startup. 

SkedGo recently won the ‘Experience the Olympics’ category of the Olympic City Transport Challenge (OCTC), a competition run by a group of public- and private-sector organisations to design apps for visitors to the Rio Games.

Claus von Hessberg, SkedGo CEO, explains how the app works.

“You select where you’re staying and the events you want to go to – they could be Olympic or non-Olympic events, tourist attractions, or restaurants,” he says.

“RioGo’s routing engine understands how and when all of Rio’s transport modes operate. It generates your daily event and travel itinerary and alerts you when to depart to arrive at your event on time.”

The OCTC judges praised RioGo’s ability to plan daily itineraries, and von Hessberg says winning the competition was a coup for SkedGo.

“Since we won we’ve been committed to refining the product – we’re going to have a global audience using our app to get around Rio and we don’t want to disappoint them,” he says.

RioGo will also be used for the Paralympics and has the potential to be adapted for use at other large events.

Helping make travel more environmentally friendly

Anyone using RioGo to navigate their way around Rio this August can thank an unlikely source for its creation: an amateur football competition played in Sydney about eight years ago.

“I used to play soccer and there would be 20 players from my suburb and 20 from another suburb,” says von Hessberg. “How many cars showed up at the pitch? Forty. There were 40 cars polluting the place and no parking. That’s how it all started. I wanted to find ways of making people’s trips across cities more efficient and environmentally friendly.”

Today, SkedGo is a global company with offices in Argentina, Vietnam and Finland and a representative in Brazil. The company’s main product TripGo, launched in 2012. TripGo is an award-winning travel-planning app serving 4 million queries a month from more than 800,000 users in 200 cities worldwide.

In a crowded marketplace, TripGo is the only trip planning app that shows combinations of all available forms of transport, von Hessberg says. 

“We may say drive to the station, park your car, catch the train into downtown and then catch an Uber,” he explains.

TripGo helps organise users’ travel plans based on whether they want the quickest, cheapest or most environmentally friendly transport options: the app lists the carbon emissions associated with each stage of travel. A feature called Agenda syncs TripGo with calendar apps to provide departure-time alerts.

For von Hessberg, the environmental benefits of efficient travel have made SkedGo his most satisfying business venture yet.

“I believe we should leave the planet in a better state than we found it,” he says. “I’ve had businesses in which I’ve made more money, but this is the most rewarding.”

Rewriting the rules of travel

Born in Germany, von Hessberg says he had a very traditional boarding school upbringing. However, by the time he arrived in Berlin to study aerospace engineering (to pursue his childhood dream to be an astronaut), von Hessberg had developed a rebellious streak.

“I was a hippy,” he says. “I left university and started travelling the world.”

Arriving in Australia aged 23, von Hessberg felt a strong connection with the country that would become his home.

“I love the outback, the ocean and the mountains – Australia just works for me,” he says.

After supporting himself as an artist for several years, von Hessberg fell into a job as a scenic artist in Sydney’s film and television industry. In 1991, he formed Modern Miracle, a company providing special effects and engineering for film and TV.

In 1997, Modern Miracle merged with another company to become Designtroupe, an experience marketing company that boomed during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, after which von Hessberg sold to global marketing agency George P Johnson in 2001.

In 2009 von Hessberg started SkedGo. For a year developers tried but failed to realise his vision. Then, on the verge of giving up, von Hessberg spoke to a friend, Dr Tim Cooper, a PhD in computer science. Cooper was intrigued by the trip app challenge and became a partner. Together, they recruited a team of computer science PhD students and graduates, including Adrian Schoenig, who is now the company’s CTO.

In addition to TripGo and RioGo, SkedGo also has a personal scheduler app currently available in beta. Other apps in the pipeline include TripGenie – “It allows people to dream up travel itineraries, get instant prices, and share with friends for feedback,” von Hessberg says. “We call it the dreaming stage of travel.”

The company’s Holy Grail, however, is Mobility as a Service (MaaS) – the concept of brings all means of travel together into a single mobile service. MaaS has the potential to radically transform how we travel by allowing people to plan, book and pay for their transport all through one app. SkedGo is working with Finnish company MaaS Global to deliver MaaS in Finland.

“Your mobile phone will become your ticket for everything,” von Hessberg says. “It’s your ticket to the train turnstile, to board a bus, pay for your taxi or parking – anything transport-related. This is the future of transport.

“It’s a no-brainer for consumers in terms of convenience and it’s a no-brainer for governments because it’s cleaner, safer and will help take cars off the road. We’ve solved the technical challenges. We’re ready. We’re just waiting for the rest of the world.”