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Boston's Street Bump coming to Britain

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, March 26 2012

The smartphone app Street Bump, which allows users to report potholes and was first tested in Boston last year, is now also coming to Bristol in the United Kingdom, the BBC and the Sunday Times (of London) reported.

The idea behind the application, as CNN recently reported, is that a smartphone's accelerometer senses potholes while driving, and then sends that data with a GPS coordinate to a city database, to create a "real-time" map of road conditions, and catch critical road conditions earlier.

But when the project first launched in Boston last year, it didn't work. The data the phones was measuring was not useful, not distinguishing between potholes and railroad tracks or other obstacles, according to CNN. The City of Boston's Office of Urban Mechanics is now working on implementing the algorithmic solutions developed by the winners of a global challenge the city launched with the company InnoCentive in order to have the program running by the summer.

Meanwhile, officials in the U.K. were impressed with the idea and now aim to test it as well. According to the Sunday Times, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's Chief of Staff Mitchell Weiss presented the initiative at a seminar about U.K. cities in Downing Street last month chaired by Minister for Cities Greg Clark and attended by Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the architect Lord Rogers and council leaders from the eight largest English cities outside of London. Clark asked the Bristol city council to test it.

“Street Bump is a classic example of how a global city like Boston has come up with an invention that is now going to scatter around the planet and which Bristol is going to take hold of, pilot and develop,” Clark told the Sunday Times.

In tests carried out by The Sunday Times, the app proved effective and very sensitive-- registering every hole and rut and emitting a beep to confirm that it had logged a defect in the road surface. Even with the forgiving suspension on our Mercedes­Benz 240D, the screen of the iPhone was filled with wavy lines indicating the uneven surface of the road.

But not everyone in Britain thinks the app will be helpful. The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said it saw a risk of information overload. "Highway departments could end up being inundated with thousands of new reports each day about potholes they are already well aware of, taking hours for officers to sift through,” said the LGA, according to the Sunday Times.

A member of the Bristol City Council told the BBC that the authorities would not necessarily respond to single reports, but that an accumulation of reports from a single area could be helpful.

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