Several cities have developed apps that allow citizens to report things like downed tree branches, breaches of city ordinance, or potholes in roadways, but the city of Boston is trying to take the human out of the process. An app called Street Bump will take advantage of smartphones' GPS data and accelerometers to automatically report potholes to city authorities without the user having to raise a finger—if it actually works, that is.
The free app, which runs on the Android operating system for now, is still in alpha testing and isn't quite ready for public consumption. But the idea is that it will allow citizens to help the city create work orders for problem areas on city roadways without requiring a phone call or email to city engineers. "It's a new kind of volunteerism,'' Nigel Jacob, one half of Boston's Urban Mechanics office, told the Boston Globe. "It's not volunteering your sweat equity. It's volunteering the devices that are in your pocket to help the city.''
But the city of Boston and its partners (the city is receiving help from experts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Santa Fe Complex, a technology think tank in New Mexico) aren't the first to try to make this kind of roadway-assessing app, and the challenges are many. Microsoft has looked into it, as has MIT, with varying degrees of success.
The challenge: teaching a phone to tell the difference between a pothole and a speed bump or elevated crosswalk, or—perhaps even more challenging—a railway crossing or sewer grate. That's pretty tough to do, and an app that issues false positives could degrade the city's ability to respond to potholes by sending workers to repair nonexistent problems, costing time and money.
But the city of Boston seems well aware of the challenges. Street Bump will soon be distributed to thousands of testers and a $25,000 prize will be offered to programmers who can devise the best ways to correct the app's shortcomings. If users can help the city smooth out a few bumps in the road, the city could soon have a citywide network of pothole sensors patrolling the pavement around the clock.
Isn't that what the public works guys should be doing? They can't just see the pot holes when they're driving? If they don't have time to look for pot holes how are they going to find time to fill them?
I think a faster path (rather than waiting for the tech to tell the difference between a pothole and a railroad crossing) would be to incorporate it into turn-by-turn nav. You hit a bump and your nav speaks to you "would you like to report that last bump as a pothole?"...then you push the big green button (or respond verbally, as the case may be.) As the algorithms improve, you pester the user less.
I proposed this idea to Boston. What do you think?
Pothole Alert App ( iPhone and Android )
Wouldn't items such as crosswalks, speed bumps and manhole covers be entered into a database of knowns so that they could be cross-referenced with any reported potholes? Seems like a no-brainer.
Flutter - I was thinking the same thing. That, integrated with suddenmischief's idea would make this pretty damn efficient, at least, imho. Cheers.
The application is meant to be effortless. Having to report every pothole you come across will soon grow tiresome for drivers (yeah, people are lazy.)
An improved system may be to incorporate Google Maps – complete with satellite imagery and aerial photography – so a public official can discard false flags; road crossings, manhole covers, and sudden braking.
Better still, algorithms. But, I, in no way, have a head for mathematics, sadly.