Parvanu aims to make pavements safe for all

New technology for mapping street hazards will improve pedestrian safety


Damaged pavements are a familiar feature of urban environments everywhere and most people take them in their stride. But for anyone pushing a buggy, using a wheelchair or coping with impaired mobility, these surfaces can represent a significant danger.

Noel Joyce became a wheelchair user following a mountain biking accident. He is active, fit and strong, yet no match for street hazards such as botched pavement repairs that have unbalanced his chair, causing him to be thrown from it on several occasions.  

Joyce is a product designer and a former winner of the international James Dyson design award. He is also one half of the brains behind the internationally successful Maglus magnetic stylus. Now he has turned his attention to “fixing the dents in the universe” by establishing Pavanu Mobility, a start-up focused on making the pedestrian environment a safer place for everyone, regardless of their mobility status.

“Our concern is the accessibility and safety of the built environment, in particular the millions of kilometres of footpaths and pedestrian areas in our world,” Joyce says. Pavanu has developed the Pasiv (Pedestrian Area Survey Inspection Vehicle), which uses a wheelchair frame with an integrated sensory platform to survey the pedestrian built environment for potential hazards and accessibility. It then produces a comprehensive map of the location and details the seriousness of each problem encountered.

Behind Pasiv is a cloud- based platform that manages the data and generates reports for the company’s customers, who are typically the local authorities responsible for fixing these problems.

“It is in their own interest to fix them,” Joyce says. “We know of one local authority in Ireland that has spent over €10 million in the last five years on litigation arising from trips and falls. This figure was over €160 billion worldwide. Our system detects surface problems way before an accident occurs. By using our data, entities such as local authorities, tourism groups, stadiums and private companies can avoid potentially big lawsuit bills.” 

Noel Joyce is a cofounder the Design Hub in Tullamore, Co Offaly. He is also head of design at Hax, a US-based accelerator programme for hardware entrepreneurs.

“What really matters to me is adding value to people’s lives through design,” he says. “There is a commercial aspect to it because we all have to live, but making a difference is also really important.”

Smooth walkways


“It struck me that effective mapping of surfaces could identify problems very quickly and lead to meaningful repairs that would greatly improve access and safety for all pedestrians,” he says. “We also intend to provide an app to allow those with mobility issues to report problems.”

Joyce has been joined in Pavanu by three cofounders: product designer Darren Mealiff, electronic engineering and software specialist Darren Conroy, and Natalia Shiel, who has previous start-up experience and is chief executive. The company was set up a year ago and beat off stiff European competition last November to win a place on the inaugural StartPlanet NI, an equity-backed accelerator programme based in Belfast.

As a spin-off from StartPlanet, Shiel got the opportunity to pitch Pavanu Mobility in a Dragon’s Den-like setting at the seventh annual New York- New Belfast conference. Pavanu won the event and Shiel says one of the big payoffs was getting noticed.

“Our technology drew a lot of interest and as a result we have already been offered £100,000 of the £250,000 we are currently raising,” she says.

Even more promising for Pavanu, however, is that the company has attracted the interest of motorcycle maker Yamaha, a strong supporter of young talent with bright ideas.

“Yamaha sees itself as a mobility solutions provider, so it will consider all sorts of ideas within this space,” she says. “They work with start-ups to help them grow and develop and if they like what they see they may take us under their wing. Perhaps Yamaha is our knight in shining armour.

“At present we are a lean, bootstrapped company with everyone working very long hours. But that’s how it has to be and the business is actually taking off very fast. We already have projects under way for Dublin and Offaly county councils.

Avoid litigation

Shiel says they expect to generate income of €325,000 in its first year, rising to €1.5 million by year three. “These figures are based on 0.1 per cent of the international area that needs to be mapped. Of course 0.1 per cent is an extremely conservative number considering 100 per cent requires mapping eventually,” she says.

“There are over 4,000 towns and cities in the world with a population in excess of 150,000, so the scope for us is huge, but our immediately serviceable market is approximately 200 towns and cities in the UK, Europe, US and Canada,” she adds.

“For Pavanu, the main goal is to implement our technology in order to achieve full accessibility and safety on footpaths and sidewalks for everyone, regardless of age, ability and circumstances,” Noel Joyce says. “It is not enough to create a technology that works well. We also have to create awareness about issues with the built environment, issues that have been overlooked and ignored for way too long.”

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