Crowdsourcing is one of the key technologies of smart cities, because it is enabled by information and communication technology.  The reason that crowdsourcing is so appealing is the notion that there is wisdom in the crowd unattainable by smaller groups of individuals.  Crowdsourcing has also started to fill a void left by agencies that are lacking resources they once had.  Last week’s presentations presented the theme of crowdsourcing to solve two different problems: real time traffic conditions and community development.

Crowdsourcing & Traffic Conditions 

Non-crowdsourced traffic conditions are based on sensors in the pavement that can infer speeds and level of congestions on the roads equipped with these sensors.  There are two limitations to the sensors: they are found mostly on highways and roads carrying significant traffic volumes, not on local streets; and they can only report that traffic is moving slowly, not the reason for the delay.  The reason for the delay might provide a sense of how long the delay is expected to last and would also help the transportation agency identify potential solutions for the delay.  Using the drivers as sensors is a way to dramatically increase coverage and the level of information associated with traffic conditions.

One of the apps that uses crowdsourcing to improve information for customers and agenices is Waze.  Waze is a crowdsourcing traffic app that tries to game-ify the driving experience in order to stimulate participation.  Their motto draws us to “outsmart traffic, together.” Wazers can participate in a variety of ways: actively contribute information about accidents, where police are located, etc; and passively by allowing the app to track your speed.  Waze uses the GPS speed information to infer traffic conditions and provide the most up to date travel time predictions and potential rerouting.


Crowdsourcing & Community Development

Non-crowdsourced community development is a top down affair with funding coming from the federal and state governments, funneled through a local government, to eventually reach the community.  As the federal and state resources are drying up, there is little left for investment in the community.  The recession has not helped communities retain their businesses either, which leaves vacant lots and urban blight. Using the neighbors as the funding source can increase the possibility of making a long-lasting change, agreeable to the community.

IOBY (the opposite of NIMBY) is a project that uses crowdsourced funding (aka crowdfunding) to fund neighborhood-level projects with an environmental objective. An example of a project funded through IOBY is Pollos del Pueblo.  The problem was there were no places to buy fresh food (esp. eggs) in a neighborhood of Brooklyn.  Through IOBY, neighbors raised $6200 to fund a community garden and community chicken coup.  Each project has a project sponsor and volunteer team to ensure continuity after the funding phase.

Both Waze and IOBY depend on a large user group to either generate useful information or generate enough funds to support physical construction projects.  With respect to IOBY, there is also a requirement for continuity after the funding phase in terms of maintenance and operations, neither of which are guaranteed under the community-based model. Regardless of some of the hurdles, both applications of crowdsourcing have high potential to disrupt the traditional forms of collecting data and funding community development projects.