While driving home from work yesterday, I heard a report on the NPR (National Public Radio) that made me think "We truly do live in a different world…"
Only twenty or so years ago, I remember there being talk of a future in which "something" would monitor automobile traffic and tell you if there were traffic jams ahead and offer alternative routes and so forth. But the way in which this was envisaged to work involved sensors buried under the road at every intersection tracking the movement of the cars. It also involved weird and wonderful mechanisms (largely involving wired connections into the existing communications infrastructure in the form of telephone signals) between these sensors back to some central computing facility.
There was no idea that we would one day all be carrying smart phones with GPS capability, and that enough of us would allow our phones to transmit our current position such that folks like Google could use this data (location combined with current speed combined with number of signals from the same area) to determine traffic conditions and offer new routing suggestions.
The thing is that this technology – in the form of things like smart phones – is opening the door to all sorts of applications that I personally would simply never have envisaged. In the report on the NRP, for example, they were talking about a new Pothole App that's been created by the City of Boston (well, not by the city itself, you understand, but I'm sure you catch my drift).
The idea is that you download this app to your smart phone. Now, when you are driving through the city, if you hit a pothole, the app detects this fact via the accelerometers in your smart phone, and the GPS location associated with this pothole is automatically uploaded to a central computer. When this computer has received "hits" from three different vehicles in the same location, it automatically initiates a work order to "Fix the pothole at location XYZ."
Now they are talking about launching corresponding Broken Street Light and Annoying Graffiti apps. The idea here is that if you see a broken light or some annoying graffiti, you launch the appropriate app and use it to take a picture. This information (your location, the direction in which you are pointing, and the picture of the offending whatever) is immediately dispatched to whomever is in charge of sorting things out.
All I can say is that I am very impressed. I would simply never have thought about any of these things for myself. I can only watch and wait in wonder to see what they come up with next...
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