Skip to Content
Uncategorized

Road Repair via Crowdsourcing

A contest could help make Boston’s pothole-spotting smart-phone app more accurate.

In February, the city of Boston developed an app called Street Bump, which collects data from drivers with Android smart phones. Now, after identifying some problems, the city plans to have volunteers refine the app’s accuracy.

Bumpy ride: This screenshot from the Street Bump app for Android shows circles that represent suspected potholes.

Traditionally, Boston has relied on public works inspectors to locate potholes. Since 2009, residents have been able to report potholes, graffiti, and other nuisances using the Citizens Connect app for iPhone and Android devices. Users snap a photo and submit the image, which is routed directly to city repair teams. Some other cities already have similar citizen-reporting programs. For example, Minneapolis provides a website where citizens can file pothole complaints.

Street Bump, released by the city in February, requires no direct user involvement. The app, for Android devices only at the moment, uses GPS data to track a device, and detects potholes by using the phone’s built-in accelerometer to sense sudden jolts. When multiple phones report the same jolt, the app identifies a pothole that needs to be repaired.

Road tested: An area of Boston that was tested for potholes. Credit: New Urban Mechanics

Nigel Jacob, cochair of the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics, an organization set up to explore new approaches to civic engagement—and which created both Citizens Connect and Street Bump—says his team was unhappy with the number of false positives that Street Bump produced. “We need someone to do deeper analysis of our data,” he says. “The app works well, but it can’t tell the difference between a real pothole and a train track.”

To improve the app, the city has now posted a bounty of $25,000 on Innocentive.com, a marketplace for crowdsourcing innovation, for a developer to create algorithms that report potholes accurately.

Thilo Koslowski, a Gartner analyst who studies automotive technology, says the success of the app will depend greatly on the accuracy of the data.

“These types of applications are the first examples of self-aware devices and applications that will become an integral part of future smart infrastructures and smart cities,” he says.

Jacob says he could see Boston collecting data from drivers in real-time, leading to faster response times and better roads. The city plans to roll out the app to other platforms as well, including the iPhone, in the future.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Russian servicemen take part in a military drills
Russian servicemen take part in a military drills

How a Russian cyberwar in Ukraine could ripple out globally

Soldiers and tanks may care about national borders. Cyber doesn't.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.