Solving Cities

Mobile app alerts city of potholes as you drive

Mobile app alerts city of potholes as you drive

Posting in Cities

Boston is developing a mobile app to make detecting potholes simple. All you have to do is drive.

311 apps, like SeeClickFix, are a great starting point for encouraging civic engagement through apps. But what if there was an app that's even less time consuming for citizens and produces better data for cities?

Boston is currently testing a mobile app that tries to do just that. Street Bump, the latest app from the city's Office of New Urban Mechanics, can automatically detect and map potholes, using your smartphone, as you drive on the city's street. Government Technology explains how it works:

[T]he mobile application uses sensors embedded in mobile devices to identify vibrations that could indicate potholes or other road hazards. But unlike other 311 apps that require user interaction to log a complaint, all a person needs to do is turn it on. Technology takes care of the rest.

Relying on machine-to-machine communication, the app combines the vibrations it detects with GPS data and transmits the information back to the city. A software algorithm then deciphers whether a pothole is present. If so, a Boston Public Works Department employee is alerted so a repair crew can be dispatched.

While the app is still in its pilot phase, it would eventually speed up road repairs and create a real-time map of street conditions, helping drivers avoid dangerous streets.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said recently that pothole are one of the city's largest service issues. In 2010, the city received 4,000 pothole reports and filled 7,000 on the city's 800 miles of roads.

The city is now working on testing and finalizing a more polished version of the app, which they will make available to the city residents, along with a version that can be used by any city. It is expected to be available to the public later this year.

This app begs the question: what other urban problems could be solved by simply interacting, in everyday ways, with the urban environment?

Boston Testing App for Auto-Detecting Potholes [Government Technology]

Photo: LarimdaME/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure