The city of Boston and the insurers Liberty Mutual have invested $45,000 in Street Bump, an Android and iPhone App that detects and maps the damaging holes in the road that require attention. The code is to be made available so that others can develop this technology.
We reported last May on this app that uses the the phone's accelerometer to chart potholes in the road as a car drives over them, then broadcasts a GPS tagged report.
The project was initiated by Boston's Urban Mechanics office in collaboration with Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Santa Fe Complex. While the initial Android app proved good at data collection it couldn’t differentiate between potholes and other bumps.
At this point a challenge was posted on the crowd sourcing site Innocentive.com offered them a share of $25,000 in prize money for improvements to eliminate false positives. In particular what was needed was an algorithm to tell the difference between a pothole and a speed bump or elevated crosswalk, railway crossing or sewer grate.
As a result ideas have been incorporated from three distinct contributions - a hackers group in Somerville, Massachusetts which promotes community education and research, the head of the mathematics department at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, and a software engineer who did not want to be identified and the key new algorithm is one that can tell if the initial motion is up over a speed bump, as opposed to down into a pothole. If at least three people hit a down-going bump in the same spot, the system recognizes it as a pothole.
According to a report
from Associated Press:
There has been so much interest from other cities in the U.S. and abroad that Boston is preparing to release the code to the public by the end of the summer so others can tweak the software for their needs. Proposals include using it for early detection of earthquakes and creating a “black box” for police cruisers that could show whether a vehicle was stationary or moving before a crash to stop people who hit parked police cars from claiming officers crashed into them.
So although only a couple of hundred users have downloaded the app so far, there is the prospect that this free app is the start of something that will improve conditions for motorists, traffic authorities and others - all it needs is ingenuity and imagination and a developer who can implement it.