Mark Bridge writes:
In the past five years, what started as an advertising message - “there’s an app for that” - has become a challenge to developers. It’s become a registered trademark. It’s become part of 21st century culture. And it’s become an totem for journalists to pin their most outrageous app-based stories to.
Worried your partner might be having an affair? Obsessed with counting calories? Teaching children the A to Z of bitcoin? Yes, there’s an app for that… and that… and that.
Roadroid doesn’t need the attention-grabbing headlines. It’s an automated road monitoring app that is gaining popularity for its simplicity and its accuracy. It’s winning awards, too. From Afghanistan to New Zealand, it’s been proven to deliver results that would otherwise require a vehicle bristling with laser sensors and mapping technology. Yet Roadroid happily runs on a stock Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone. All you need is the app and an in-car mounting bracket.
The sensors in a modern smartphone usually just work out which way up your phone is being held - or which way you’re heading. Roadroid uses them to track and rate every bump in the road.
Road smoothness is evaluated using a formal standard: the International Roughness Index (IRI). Roadroid assesses the road constantly using the accelerometers and GPS location within a smartphone, estimates the IRI and stores its readings on the phone. At the end of a journey, the readings are sent over the internet to a database that's controlled by the organisation collecting the data; usually a government department or local authority. These results can then be displayed on a map or within data management software.
I met Roadroid founder Lars Forslöf at a networking event during Mobile World Congress last year - and was immediately struck by the potential for his app. Instead of paying for expensive surveys, a local council could equip one of its delivery or collection vehicles with a Roadroid-powered smartphone to monitor surface conditions every day. Crowd-sourced reports could warn anyone with a bicycle or motorbike about potentially dangerous road conditions. Survey costs and accident rates could both be cut. Imagine the amount of data - and the subsequent insight - that could be acquired through a partnership with a taxi company or delivery firm.
According to Lars, the estimated IRI (eIRI) from a standard Roadroid set-up has around 80% of the accuracy of a laser-equipped vehicle. However, a specially-tuned Roadroid installation can calculate the IRI to within 90%.
Although Roadroid is usually only available to interested organisations, Lars has enabled me to use Roadroid in my own car for the past couple of months.
What’s the process like? I clip the phone into my hands-free holder and press the ‘fitting adjustment’ button. An on-screen display then helps me check the phone is mounted vertically to ensure the most accurate reading. After that, I press the ‘start’ button and set off on my journey. A coloured bar shows how smooth (or rough) the road is. Photos of my location can be taken with a single tap of the app - and potholes I manage to avoid can be added manually. I’ve also tried to play tricks on it - braking suddenly or accelerating sharply - and it’s not been fooled. When I’ve finished driving, I connect to WiFi and upload my report.
Driving round the village where I live has revealed that 9.2% per cent of local roads are rated as unsatisfactory or poor, according to the app, while 76.1% show as good. A couple of roads were as low as 38% good. Of course, that's not every single road - only those I've driven along - but I've covered most of the larger ones in the past few weeks. Lars reckons we should expect roads in towns and cities to be rated as at least 90% good, while motorways and major roads should reach 97.5%.
But as far as I’m concerned, Roadroid isn’t meant for criticising road maintenance. The real benefit is the potential for improvement. Roadroid offers local authorities an opportunity to identify potholes quickly and cheaply without investing in specialist equipment. As a result, the risk of accidents or vehicle damage can also be reduced, which means the local council could make even more financial savings. All for the price of a mid-range smartphone.
|Crowd-sourcing public versions of Roadroid are expected for Android and Apple iOS by the end of 2014. More information about Roadroid can be found online at roadroid.com or via the @roadroid Twitter account.