September 2014 - January 2015
Areas of focus
UX · UI · Product Design
What if our roads could watch themselves? What if our Departments of Public Works could respond to instant and ubiquitous data collected by vehicles already on the road? These questions led us to learn more about how current road conditions are monitored, and how the decision of which roads to fix is made.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS MAINTENANCE?
This varies city to city, but in Syracuse, as with much of NY, it is the DPW.
THE DPW (DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS)
"The Department of Public Works (DPW) serves as the backbone of the city. We plow the streets, pick up the trash, maintain the sewers, keep traffic flowing, maintain our parks, maintain our streets, and issue handicap parking permits."
Role: Administrative Officer (DPW)
Goals: Record and catalogue reported road maintenance issues. Coordinate with operations department to prioritize and schedule corrective actions. Maintain records of previously addressed areas.
Technologies used: Issues are reported via email, phone calls, social media and direct conversations. They are then entered into "Issues Log" spreadsheet for prioritization and scheduling.
Challenges: Each report comes in differently, with little data to help weigh the issue. Without visibility to the operations, or a cross reference to other data such as traffic or severity, Carol is limited in her ability to prioritize and schedule effectively.
Role: Superintendent of Operations (DPW)
Goals: Plan and direct the operational activities of the Department of Public works, including managing and scheduling street repair, snow plowing and waste removal.
Technologies used: Rank importance of issues as entered into spreadsheet based on internal knowledge of the city and the operational schedule. Schedule crews with online scheduling module and email specific instructions to both city and contracted crews.
Challenges: "Issues Log" data is often incomplete or redundant. Severity of issues is difficult to gauge. Prioritization of issues is paramount to keep maintenance on budget.
Can I combine off the shelf technology and existing physical infrastructure with an easy to use platform to create a better way to monitor road conditions?
COLLECTING ROAD DATA AUTOMATICALLY
HITS A BUMP > RECORDS DEVIATION > TAKES A PHOTO > RECORDS LOCATION > WIRELESSLY UPLOADS AT EOD
With a few off the shelf technologies housed in a durable plastic container, this device would allow road condition information to be gathered automatically. Mail trucks could be one deployment of this device as they are one of a handful of fleets that are owned and operated by the government and drive consistent routes that cover nearly every street. Additionally, they have been required to have GPS since 2010.
ADDRESSING ROAD ISSUES
The database website includes a live map that displays pins for every pothole, colored by severity and cross referenced with existing traffic data. Department of Public Works employees would be able to report the most crucial problems and schedule a crew to x them. The final database was prototyped in Axure and underwent several rounds of user testing and revisions.
Once reported and prioritized for fixing, the real work begins. According to the Department of Labor, almost 150,000 people are employed to "maintain highways, municipal and rural roads, airport runways, and rights-of-way", and the number is projected to go up 5% in the next decade, not even accounting for the increases in road damage due to climate related disasters.
With the limited timeline of this project (one semester school based project), I was unable to dive into the complexities of the local government, hardware development software testing and at the level I would have liked to. With further time spent on this project, I would have:
Ridden along with maintenance crews as they responded to issues
Sat in with DPW administration as they received and logged issues
Tested the prototype database with DPW employees for feedback
Built a working prototype of the device and tested on my own vehicle
Gathered data from the prototype and tested its accuracy
Further researched how other cities addressed this issue