Citizen Sensor: crowdsourcing public works reports

Paul Raven @ 19-04-2010

Tired of your local government authority ignoring all those little patch-up jobs that would make your town or city a nicer place to live? Maybe you should try crowdsourcing a form of polite, transparent, insistent (and very public) pressure, and applying it to the affected area? That’s what SeeClickFix are helping people to do in an assortment of cities in the US, and it seems to be working [via SlashDot]:

The first city was New Haven, Conn., and the mayor and the chief administrative officer were both very receptive. So receptive that the mayor wrote a letter to about 100 other mayors around the country. The majority of responses since have been really positive. You get a few where they’ll say, “Oh, but we already have a website where people can report issues.” And, of course, our response is, “Yes, you do. But that website does not display issues publicly when you post them.”

We have a ton of features that exceed standard city websites, and that helps move the ball forward in terms of acceptance of public, transparent, collective reporting. But in the beginning, really the only one-up we had on a city website was that we were a map-based transparent web reporting tool, and they were usually just a closed web form that was no better than leaving a phone call. You still had the same black box syndrome.

[…]

I don’t think I’ve ever had a public works official say to me, “We don’t want this because it’s going to make the information public.” No one wants to be on record saying that. So what we do is, we don’t really give them a choice.

The information is going to be public whether city governments receive alerts or not. And then we sign them up to receive alerts, if they don’t sign themselves up. Many, many city governments have signed themselves up. But many others have been signed up by us or by a media partner or by one of their constituents.

They appear to have thought fairly thoroughly about potential gaming/obstructional behaviour from the authorities, but I wonder if they’ve spent the same amount of time thinking about ways malicious reports could exploit the system? There’s gotta be an angle there, though I can’t think of one immediately.

Of course, the next logical step – once you’ve submitted countless reports left endlessly open due to budget and resource constraints – is that you get together with your local neighbourhood and use a similar set of social tools to set up a public fund of cash and/or person-hours in order to start fixing the problems yourselves…


Protective workwear supplied: cleaning the Burj Dubai

Paul Raven @ 05-01-2010

File under science fictional employment opportunities: the Burj Dubai (that ludicrously huge tower in Dubai which we’ve mentioned here before) is finally open for business (if there’s any business left, natch), which means they need to keep the thing clean for tourists and visiting dignitaries – quite a challenge when you’re talking about a building that clocks in at over 800m in height. [image courtesy Wikipedia]

There are 23,000 glass panels on that thing, most of which will be cleaned by BMUs (robot Building Maintenance Units), but some of the uppermost sections just can’t be reached without using old-fashioned meatworkers with ropes and harnesses… and to protect them from the harsh sun up there, the workers wear a get-up much like a spacesuit, complete with a backpack full of electrolytic “sports beverage” to keep them hydrated.

Certainly not a job for anyone with phobias of heights. Or claustrophobia, for that matter… [via @Ballardian]


Rogue (satellite) hunter

Paul Raven @ 13-10-2009

Things are going to get a little busier up in geostationary orbit… not only are there destined to be an increasing number of broken satellites cluttering up this important orbital region, but soon there’ll be little robot repair bots flying around up there trying to fix them (or push them out of the way):

Their robots will dock with failing satellites to carry out repairs or push them into “graveyard orbits”, freeing vital space in geostationary orbit. This is the narrow band 22,000 miles above the Earth in which orbiting objects appear fixed at the same point. More than 200 dead satellites litter this orbit. Within 10 years that number could increase fivefold, the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety has warned.

Klaus Landzettel, head of space robotics at DLR, said engineering advances, including the development of machines that can withstand temperatures ranging from -170C (-274F) to 200C (392F), meant that the German robots will be “ready to be used on any satellite, whether it’s designed to be docked or not”.

Hellooooo, orbital commercial warfare! Rival communications company squeezing you out in a particular region? Not any longer – not once their sat takes an unscheduled trip to the Lagrange point!