Kapten: voice-activated urban navigation gets a start in France

Officially launched today in Paris, France, Kapten (€179) is a totally new kind of GPS-enabled consumer electronics device: the size of an iPod nano, with a few buttons but without screen, it is completely voice-activated. Kapten, made by a start-up company called Kapsys is first and foremost a navigation device (with turn-by-turn voice prompted instructions) for walking, bicycling and driving.

For pedestrians Kapten offers a multimodal feature calculating a route with peri-urban trains and metro lines in large cities (50 cities in France) and also offering self-service bicycle stations as point of interest. However, the solution does not integrate bus lines and the Tele Atlas map data used in this device is not fully pedestrian friendly being much more a map database for car navigation used for pedestrian than a dedicated pedestrian map. But the device integrates a magnetometer (for heading) and an accelerometer. Kapsys is still tweaking these sensors to make the best out of it: future releases of the Kapten firmware will have improvements both in the navigation (dead reckoning in urban canyons) and in battery life.

Geotagging, MP3, FM and Bluetooth hands free kit

But Kapten is also a geo-tagging device, allowing the user to tag locations with voice memos and share them online with other Kapten’s users on a community website. The online software, KAP-manager, allows to download updates (GPS ephemeris, new train and metro lines, etc.), and to buy additional content such as GPS-triggered Audio guides (from PocketVox/Navigaia) or additional maps for other European cities. The cost of these maps is particularly attractive: €4.90 per city.

Additionally, Kapten integrates a voice-activated MP3 player (3GB memory is unoccupied), FM radio and Bluetooth hands-free kit for mobile phones. Battery life (830 mA) is about six hours with the GPS activated.

To build this device Kapsys has been working with well known partners: TeleAtlas for map data, SiRF for GPS (SiRF StarIII Instant Fix) and Nuance for voice recognition. The voice recognition software, which is the corner stone of this product, is working particularly well. For the most complex destinations a spelling mode is also available so as to eliminate any risk of not getting understood by the software. Buttons displayed on the device allow to skip certain menus and shortcuts can be pronounced to speed up some processes during the voice interaction.

Kapsys, based out of Sophia Antipolis in Southern France, is a 20 people start-up founded by Aram Hekimian in the summer of 2007. Mr. Hekimian has been the co-founder and CEO of wireless modem company Wavecom between 1994 and 2004. So far Hekimian invested his own money in this new venture even if he expects soon or later he will have to raise additional funds from venture capital firms.

Kapsys has already signed distribution deals with retailers in France (including FNAC, who is the biggest consumer electronics chain) and online stores. The first product should be on the shelves in France in October said the company, and deals in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy should follow thereafter.

The customer target is clearly 30 to 50 years old urban people who use a large variety of transport modes and like new technologies. At this stage it is quite difficult to know if Kapten will be a consumer success. It seems the device has been really thought through and through both at hardware and software levels by skilled engineers. The whole marketing and packaging is also well executed, positioning the product as a lifestyle device rather than a commoditized navigation solution. However, with this launch Kapsys is not only willing to define a new consumer electronics segment but also the way people interact with portable devices. Each one is a challenge by itself.

Watch here our video interview with Kapsys CEO and founder Aram Hekimian.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *