Boston Rolls Out Street Bump In Order to Identify City’s Potholes

Posted on July 23, 2012

Tired of potholes?  Officials and residents in the city of Boston certainly are.  A spokesperson for the public works department says that, on average, crews have to repair about 19,000 such driving hazards every single year.  But officials are hoping that a new app can be used to cut down on costs and make the entire repair process more expedient.

That app, known as Street Bump, was developed thanks to ideas from hackers in Somerville, Massachusetts, the head of Grand Valley State University’s math, and an unnamed software engineer.  All of the above responded to a crowdsourcing challenge issued by InnoCentive.  The city of Boston and Liberty Mutual put up the money for the development of the technology, and it was the ideas contributed by the aforementioned parties that finally got the project off the ground.

Street Bump works like this:  drivers can download the app, which became available in June, for free from the iTunes store.  Then, just when they’re about to set out on their commute, drivers simply start the app and place the phone on their dashboard.  Using the device’s internal accelerometer, the app can actually measure when a pothole is driven over.

Once three drivers drive over one pothole, the system is able to correlate the data and successfully record that a pothole needs to be fixed.  The first version of the app failed due to an inability to determine whether a bump was the result of a pothole or some manmade object like a manhole or a speed bump.  No such problem with the new software, which can tell the difference between the up and down motions that a car would undergo depending on the obstacle.

This isn’t the first time that Boston has attempted to harness such technology, nor are they the only city attempting this type of measure.  Citizen Connect was one initiative that likewise hoped to draw on users’ experiences to identify problem areas, but that technology had a critical failing in that a user would have to call or text to report the problem, a big no-no in a moving vehicle.  Cities like San Francisco and Washington D.C. have tried something similar, but their efforts also share the same drawbacks.

Hundreds of users have reportedly downloaded the app thus far, and Boston hopes to roll out the technology to other cities soon.  Officials in other areas are already salivating at the prospect of using such technology to detect earthquakes or to act as a black box on police cruisers.  To foster these types of uses, Boston plans to make public the code needed for the app.

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