Seeker Spotlight: City of Boston

We recently announced that the City of Boston has posted a Challenge seeking the development of a computer algorithm that can accurately identify the location and severity of potholes in city streets.  We asked Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to talk to us about this Challenge.

Hello Mayor Menino.  Thanks very much for talking to us today about your Challenge.  Potholes are a routine problem for cities, especially in areas where harsh winter weather and snow plows take their toll.  How do you expect this Challenge will help Boston better address the pothole problem?

In 2010, the City received nearly 4,000 pothole reports from constituents and filled over 7,000 potholes, making it one of our biggest service issues.  This Challenge will enhance Street Bump, which is our app for smart phones that helps to detect when a car hits a pothole.  The better this app is able to detect potholes, the sooner our Public Works crews will be able to fill them. No one likes hitting a pothole.  But with Street Bump, if you hit a pothole, the City could get notified and we can hopefully respond before it can be hit again.  We maintain over 800 miles of roadway, so improvements in this process will have a big impact on the drivers, cyclists and pedestrians using the streets throughout our City.

What led you to post this Challenge on the InnoCentive web site?

I am a strong believer that the best results come from engaging the public.  InnoCentive allows us to do just that.  Through the InnoCentive platform, Boston will have access to over 250,000 of the world’s most creative minds, providing them with the opportunity to address one of Boston residents’ biggest issues.  The fundamental premise of Street Bump relies on citizens to help the City collect data on road conditions, so it’s also a natural for us to turn to the global community of Solvers to help find the best algorithm to analyze that data.

While you are tapping InnoCentive’s worldwide community of Solvers, you’ve also established a special prize for residents of Boston or students at Boston’s universities.  What was the thinking behind that?

Boston is fortunate to be home to some of the brightest minds and most engaged residents in the world.  My team wants to encourage our students and residents to tackle this Challenge, volunteering their time and talents in an original way to make Boston even better.  We hope the dedicated prize helps achieve just that.

We see that this is a project of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.  Can you tell us more about that?

The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics is my research & development team.  They explore non-traditional approaches to addressing key urban issues, from neighborhood quality of life to education to economic development.  Many of their projects, such as Street Bump and the Street Bump Challenge, focus on leveraging new technology to involve constituents in the design and delivery of new services.

Once the City has selected the winning submission, what are your plans and expectations regarding implementation of the solution?

Potholes are a universal issue, and I want Street Bump to be a tool that any city or town can use to combat this problem.  For that reason, once we have selected the winning submission, we will launch an enhanced version of the Street Bump app and make it available for any City to use.

Fantastic.  Thanks again and good luck with your Challenge.

Thank You.

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