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Emerging tech keeps cities running

In Boston, residents are using city-provided apps to improve municipal operations, that city's CIO, Bill Oates, told attendees of a recent IBM conference in Las Vegas. And one of the city's newest mobile apps, Street Bump, piqued the interest of one of Oates' fellow pubic servants, Gary Gilot, an engineer who heads the public works board in South Bend, Ind.

Street Bump uses a smartphone's accelerometer to record road conditions and then sends the data to the city. It has already helped utilities do a better job of keeping the tops of manhole covers even with the surfaces of roads, Oates said.

The app is part of Boston's Citizens Connect system, which allows residents to report problems such as trash, broken streetlights or graffiti to city officials.

Now going on Version 4.0, the Citizens Connect program is set to be deployed statewide, initially in more than 50 communities.

Gilot said he was impressed by Street Bump's use of crowdsourcing as a way to amass data about road conditions. "I love the idea of the future -- that you can avoid the expense by crowdsourcing," he said.

South Bend has taken some low-tech approaches to that problem. It once had city supervisors drive every street in town to rate road conditions.

However, South Bend has gone high tech in other areas. The city worked with IBM to create a wireless sensor network that detects changes in sewer flow and alerts the city to problems. The system has reduced overflows and backups, Gilot said.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile/wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

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