Boston StreetBump

Interaction Type public -> government.
Trigger Event In 2012 Boston Mayor Thomas Menino announced that engaging the city’s citizens and their smartphones the city could take a more proactive approach to road maintenance
Domain This field describes the area where the datasets have been used into. This will include both an abstract characterisation of the general area (eg. Generic mapping) as well as information about the specific field (e.g. update of National Topographic Database)
Organisation Mayor’s office The City of Boston
Actors The City of Boston Roads and Public Infrastructure Division. The general public report the problems on the street. They benefit from the City of Boston carrying out repairs to these problems.
Data sets in use There are no specific datasets in use. Using the accelerometer and GPS devices on smartphones uses with the StreetBump application automatically report ‘bump’ or pothole information to the City of Boston. These reports are collected in a reports database.
Process The StreetBump application must be running (as a foreground) application on the client smartphone. The smartphone is left in a fixed position in a moving vehicle. When a bump or pothole is detected by the StreetBump application the geographical coordinates and other data are uploaded to the City of Boston StreetBump web service. The Roads and Public Infrastructure Division carefully monitor these reports. If a specific area receives many reports of a bump or pothole problem an engineer will physically examine that street location.
Feedback Users of the StreetBump application can gain points (“street cred”) for each pothole they assist in reporting which is subsequently fixed or repaired by the City engineers.
Goal To overcome the manual, antiquated method of reporting potholes from citizen complaints or manual survey by City inspectors.
Side effects Volunteers use the Street Bump mobile app to collect road condition data while they drive. The City of Boston then aggregates the data across all of the contributions to provide the city with real-time information to fix short-term problems (potholes) and plan long-term investments in road and street infrastructure.
Contact Point Information extracted from various websites

Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) pilots experiments that offer the potential to improve radically the quality of City services. New technology – from smart phones to GPS – and a resurgent spirit of civic engagement have created increased opportunities for closer connection and communication between City government and its citizens. Partnering frequently with the Mayor’s Constituent Service Office, MONUM is piloting projects that leverage this new technology and civic spirit to deliver services that are more personal and citizen-driven.

 

Using the motion-sensing capabilities of smart phones, volunteers who download Boston’s Street Bump app automatically send information to the city about the condition of the streets they’re driving on. When their cars hit a pothole—or a pothole-to-be—their phone sends the accelerometer data to a server application, which combines the information from many other phones to pinpoint problem areas on the streets to be repaired.  The phone’s accelerometer is used to sense when a bump is hit on the street as the driver drives along. If three or more bumps occur at the same location, the City of Boston will physically inspect this obstacle and assign it to a queue for short-term repair or record its location to assist with longer-term repair planning.

 

There are some problems around the reporting of ‘false positives’ from citizens. The use of the phone’s accelerometer means that other vibrations which are felt/absorbed by the phone can be incorrectly calculated as a pothole or bump in the road surface upon which the vehicle is travelling. Citizens are encouraged to ensure that the phone is stationary inside the vehicle with horizontal positioning of the device likely to offer more accurate observations according to the help documentation. However these ‘false positives’ are reviewed manually internally. Unless there are multiple reports of a bump or pothole problem in the vicinity of a specific location it will not be physically investigated by City engineers. Users can contact a specific hotline number to manually report a problem. There is also an option highlighted where in addition to the passive reporting of the accelerometer and GPS data users can also submit geolocated photographs or the problematic street segment.

 

There are some important lessons to be learned from the case-study:

  1. There must be multiple reports of a problem from a specific area before city authorities will act upon this report and conduct a physical examination of the location of the problem. This reduces inefficient usage of resources investigating ‘false-positives’ which are frequently reported due to noisy or poor quality data received from accelerometers.
  2. The StreetBump application is very demanding of battery resources on the host smartphones. This could be problematic as many users would not like to run their smartphone battery down quickly using this application.

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