Google’s Sidewalk Labs made the ultimate public transport guide

Sidewalk spin-off Coord made the tool for New York City and Washington D.C.

Google's parent company, Alphabet, has an offshoot called Sidewalk Labs tasked with improving urban living. The division gave birth to Coord, a spin-off which is launching a smart route planner today for people in New York City and Washington DC. The web app supports multiple modes of transportation -- bus, subway and bike rentals -- and will recommend different combinations based on live, street-level data. It's a unique blend -- other navigation apps don't include dockless bike sharing services such as Spin and Jump. That means you can quickly locate the nearest two-wheeler and judge whether it would be quicker to take the bus or tube.

Coord built the app using two in-house APIs. The Bikeshare API combines data from 65 companies into a single, comparable interface. The Routing API, meanwhile, allows Coord to mix different transport options in smart, city-centric ways. It might recommend a bicycle, for instance, if you're boarding a train later on that accepts them. If you want to use a docked bike scheme instead -- Citi Bike or Capital Bikeshare, for example -- Coord will scan nearby docks and those near your destination. Right now, it's a basic availability check, but in the future this information could be used to predict whether a dock will be full or empty by the time you get there.

For now, the web app is merely a "demo tool". It does, however, provide insight into the company and Sidewalk Labs' larger mission. The latter is currently drawing up plans for a smart neighborhood near the Lake Ontario waterfront in Toronto. The team's initial pitch was full of bold ideas including modular buildings and a network of underground tunnels for delivery robots and waste removal. The document also proposed a car-free zone with, perhaps, some form of subscription for unlimited bus, bike and autonomous pods access. For that to work, though, the company needs a platform that can guide and track citizens as they move around town.

Coord is a separate entity, which means it has a slightly different goal to Sidewalk Labs. The company has developed a Surveyor app, for instance, which can quickly label curb-side parking and bus stops. It could be useful for ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber, as well as self-driving cars that need to know where it's safe to pick up passengers and drop off packages. Still, it's easy to see how Coord's new route planning tool could be used by Sidewalk Labs to perfect its smart neighborhood dream.