Automatic app looks to improve Boston streets

Last week, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino announced a prototype mobile application that can detect potholes automatically, without having to manually report it to the city or pullover to take a picture of the roadside crater. Dubbed, Street Bump, the app is part of a crowdsourcing effort that will launch later this spring to an international audience of programmers, developers, scientists and other interested people to suggest and improve the prototype.

Street Bump is a new take on an old theme when it comes to reporting potholes. Similar apps, like SeeClickFix and other service request apps rely on drivers to report problem streets. The effort to report can be minimized through merely taking a picture of the pothole and having the phone attach coordinates before sending along to city hall. But Street Bump is different.

Street Bump is designed to monitor rides and automatically report when and where the vehicle encounters a pothole. The app uses a phone’s accelerometer to chart potholes in the road as a car drives over them, then broadcasts a GPS tagged report to city authorities. The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics worked with Citizapps to develop the prototype.

“Cities are filled with data waiting to be harvested and used to strengthen neighborhoods and improve people’s lives,” Fabio Carrera, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and partner in Citizapps, said in a statement. “With Street Bump, we are demonstrating how citizens can contribute with minimal effort to the accumulation of city knowledge, and, in doing so, help improve municipal services.”

In the coming months, the City of Boston and Waltham, Mass.-based InnoCentive will make the prototype available worldwide to over 250,000 programmers, developers, scientists and others to improve the app. According to Mayor’s office, the best submissions will receive awards courtesy of a $25,000 grant from Liberty Mutual.

Last fall, Mayor Menino re-launched Citizens Connect, an application for smart phones that allows city residents to submit and follow service requests made through their mobile devices.

“Boston is known for its old streets, but we are using the most modern technology to improve them,” said Mayor Menino. “[Street Bump] could be one more way to work with our constituents to make our neighborhood streets and major thoroughfares even better and safer to drive.”

City officials said the application eventually would be available to other cities and municipalities to use.

app uses a phone’s accelerometer to chart potholes in the road as a car drives over them, then broadcasts a GPS tagged report to city authorities
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