Want the City to Fix a Crater-of-Doom Pothole? There's an App for That

By Patrick Morgan | February 11, 2011 2:24 pm

Doing good is getting easier. Soon, you’ll be able to do your civic duty of reporting potholes without even lifting a finger. The city of Boston is working on a smartphone app that would automatically report potholes to authorities–making it easier to find and fill the more than 19,000 potholes Boston grapples with each year.

The in-development Street Bump app uses a smartphone’s GPS and accelerometer technology to register the moment when a car lurches into a pothole and to identify the location. No need for the driver to call or email city officials, the app just goes ahead and sends the message on its own.

The engineers behind the app–who hail from the Boston mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the Santa Fe Complex–believe Street Bump will make city driving easier, and will save city government some headaches.

As the Boston Globe reports:

Currently, most potholes are identified by DPW repair crews dispatched to drive until they find them, Boston Public Works Commissioner Joanne Massaro said. Roughly one in every six potholes that the city fills is reported by the public, via an e-mail, a call to City Hall, or a report made on Citizens Connect, which allows smartphone users to send the city pictures, descriptions, and locations of problems such as graffiti, potholes, and faded crosswalks.

The annual pothole battle costs the city $2 million, so you can understand why officials want to simplify at least part of the process. But are smartphones up for the challenge? From the Boston Globe:

The application relies on two components embedded in iPhones, Android phones, and many other mobile devices: the accelerometer and the Global Positioning System receiver. The accelerometer, which determines the direction and acceleration of a phone’s movement, can be harnessed to identify when a phone resting on a dashboard or in a cupholder in a moving car has hit a bump; the GPS receiver can determine by satellite just where that bump is located.

The app isn’t quite ready to save the streets yet. In the coming months engineers plan to test and refine the app, teaching it to recognize and ignore sewer grates, speed bumps, and other non-pothole objects. And if you’re handy with software, watch out for the InnoCentive.com Street Bump challenge in the near future: The programming team that comes up with the best app improvements will win a $25,000 prize.

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Image: flickr / Alan Stanton

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Christina Viering

    This is a winner!

  • Kait

    How will this app be able to distinguish pothole from a sudden jerking stop? Or hitting something in the road? Based on the articles description I’m not sure an accelerometer could distinguish a pothole from an object being hit. In the end I think there will have to be some user input like a tap to confirm a pothole was indeed hit.

  • Matt B.

    Kait, the shape of the graph of acceleration should be useful in distinguishing these phenomena, the same way that the two types of supernovas can be distinguished by the graph of brightness vs. time. In fact, they should also be able to prioritize pothole repairs by severity.

  • Dan Lingepizda

    Ah, that’s nothing.
    You should see Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood.
    Average House price is 1 Mil.
    Potholes are bigger – when you live in a Socialist State like Canada, the more you pay in taxes, the more your humiliation.
    You have to feel guilty for living in a nice neighbourhood(average property tax 15,000 dollars annually). No fixing of streets, brown-outs galore, garbage removal once every 2 weeks, one container only.
    Canada and Socialism – yeah, babay!
    Next topic – Socialized Medicine – all have it but will you live to expected term under it?

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