A method to crowd source pothole marking on (Indian) roads

In, India, roads and potholes are 2 sides of the same coin! You cannot think of one in exclusion of another. This post of mine looks at a novel technique of rapidly identifying & marking potholes in (Indian) roads. This approach can be used for any city in the world but is very pertinent to Indian roads.

This idea of mine provides a technique of quickly marking pothole in roads through the method of crowd sourcing


Introduction: It is a well known fact that Indian roads are riddled with potholes. Some may even say that there are potholes with patches of road in between them. This disclosure looks at a novel technique of rapidly identifying & marking potholes in (Indian) roads. The approach can be used for any city in the world. However this disclosure will focus on Indian roads. This disclosure proposes a novel technique of crowd-sourcing the marking of potholes on roads rather than having any single government body (NHAI etc) travel on roads to make the markings.

Description: This post proposes a novel crowd-sourced method for pothole marking that will be easy to conduct and extremely rapid The crowd-sourced pothole marking application will be made of the following components namely Pot-hole marking app, Backend server, Map Matching utility, Pothole ranking utility.

Pothole marking App: A location based smartphone app will need to be created preferably both on Android and iOS. The app will display the map with buttons to mark the following

a)   Points in map of potholes

b)   Bad segments of roads with potholes

Backend Server: The backend server will collect all the data (marked potholes) and bad segments of roads and will update a database.  A map-matching utility will map the latitude, longitude of the marked point on to a map. When the geographical location of a pothole is received (latitude, longitude) the backend server will also store the time stamp.

Pothole ranker: This module will run on a periodical basis, say once every 3 minutes. This module will determine all the potholes that have been entered in the last 3 minutes and add to the accumulated count of marked potholes. Each marked pothole will hold the count of the marks and also the time stamp of the mark. It will also rank the criticality of the pothole based on the accumulated count of potholes over the period.

The pothole ranker will maintain the following metrics

  1. Pothole criticality = Total accumulated count/ Total time
  2. Pothole impact measure = Max rate of pothole marks (Pothole marks/hr)
  3. Bad stretches of roads with many potholes =

Number of adjacent potholes/ Distance in meters


Description: This how the scheme will work in practice. The app will be uploaded into Google Play and Apple’s App store.  All users who would like to participate in the pothole marking exercise can download and install the app on their smart phones. These users when they are traveling on a road can mark potholes as they encounter them. It is assumed that the users are passengers in vehicles or pillion riders. The fact that users all over the city can simultaneously mark potholes as they encounter them will make the gathering of pothole data rapid and extremely accurate. A map of a city would need to be generated with the circles/points for locations of potholes, color-coded appropriately. We could use the color red for higher ranked potholes and yellow for lower ranked potholes with intermediate colors like purple, pink etc.  This data can then be used by Government bodies in addressing roads in fixing the roads.

There are three advantages of crowd sourcing the pothole marking

1)   The process of gathering data is rapid

2)   Roads where the traffic is heaviest will have potholes with a higher rank and can be addressed first

3)   The process will be very accurate

Crowd sourcing of pothole marking will have the following benefits

  1. The marking of potholes will be extremely rapid
  2. The potholes will be ranked based on accumulated count
  3. Ranking of potholes can be done on

– Total accumulated count/Total time

– Rate of pothole mark

– Critical segments with major potholes

4. It will be easy to segregate

– Critical potholes
– Max impactful potholes
– Bad road segment

  1. The process will be very accurate

Conclusion: The process of crowd sourcing pothole marking of Indian roads will be extremely efficient in marking potholes and bringing it to the attention of the Government.

A map of a city with the circles for locations of potholes, color-coded appropriately, to indicate higher marked potholes versus the lower ranked potholes could be generated. This map can be used to bring to the attention of the government the really bad roads and terrible road segments. Rather than having a couple of vehicles trying to ply roads and mark roads this will be very fast and extremely accurate.

Afterword: The concept of crowd sourcing for traffic is not new. Waze, which Google bought for close to $2bn does just that. It crowd sources traffic conditions and alerts users of the app. Also I did a Google search on using mobile apps for potholes marking and, not surprisingly, there were others who had also thought of a similar idea in Boston & Florida see the links below

  1. http://www.cityofboston.gov/doit/apps/citizensconnect.asp
  2. http://dailycrowdsource.com/20-resources/projects/421-crowdsourced-pothole-database-to-track-road-repair

However, I personally think that the situation in India is different, where there are ‘roads in between potholes’ ;-). While in the above 2 cases in US, only the location of the potholes is important, my idea ranks potholes based on the accumulated count and the rate of pothole marks. These metrics can be used by the government in addressing those sections of roads where the potholes have a higher rank i.e. where the traffic is highest.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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Presentation on Wireless Technologies – Part 2

Here is a continuation of my earlier presentation on Wireless Technologies – Part 1. These presentations trace the evolution of telecom from basic telephony all the way to the advances in LTE.

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Monetizing mobile data traffic

Published in Telecom Asia – May 31, 2010 – Monetizing mobile data traffic

Abstract: In the last couple of years mobile data traffic has seen explosive growth and has in fact crossed the voice traffic. CSPs have been forced to upgrade their access, core and backhaul networks to be able to handle the increased demands on the network. Despite the heavy growth in mobile data traffic the corresponding ARPU for mobile data traffic has only been marginal. So what is the way out for the Service Providers? This article looks at some of the avenues through which CSPs can increase their revenue in the face of increasing traffic demands by converting the growth in mobile traffic from a challenge to an opportunity.

Growth in Mobile Data Traffic
Mobile data traffic is exploding in carrier networks. In a recent report by Ericsson the findings show that mobile data traffic globally grew 280% during each of the last two years, and is forecast to double annually over the next five years. This exponential growth in data traffic has been fueled by the entry of smartphones, laptops with dongles and other devices hungry for bandwidth. The advent of smartphones like iPhone, NexusOne and Droid has resulted in several data hungry applications squeezing the available bandwidth of carriers. Smartphones are here to stay. Social networking sites on mobile devices and mobile broadband-based PCs also now account for a large percentage of mobile data traffic. In fact it is rumored that a major carrier’s network started to choke as a result of these bandwidth hungry smartphones.

Marginal ARPU issue
Nowadays professionals everywhere use their laptops with dongles for checking their emails, browsing or to perform high bandwidth downloads. However the ARPU from data traffic has been relatively flat or at most marginal. In fact one report claims that despite the phenomenal growth in data traffic the ARPU from data traffic has not grown proportionately. In fact the ARPU from voice traffic continues to exceed that of the ARPU of data traffic. This clearly defies logic. On the one hand there is enormous growth of data traffic but there are no corresponding returns for the Service Provider. To add to this situation there are now new devices like the iPad and its soon-to-be competitors which will start its demands on the wireless network. One of the reasons why the growth in ARPU for data traffic is not proportional to the data traffic growth is because of data schemes like “all-you-can- eat” or flat-rate charging. Such charging schemes result in excessive usage with little or no consequent increase in revenue generation. To make matters worse Over the Top (OTT) video service and other third party services place a heavy data load on the networks while siphoning away the revenue. Also the increased demands on the network necessitate the need to upgrade the access, core and backhaul networks to handle the increasing data traffic loads. The CSPs are forced to upgrade to LTE/WiMAX to improve the access and move their backhaul to the Evolved Packet Core (EPC). Hence the CSPs are faced with the situation where they do “more for less”. While they have to increase their CAPEX there is no corresponding ROI for the new hardware. This article looks at some of the possible ways the CSPs can monetize this growth in traffic.

Avenues for CSPs
There are four ways for turning this bandwidth crunch into an opportunity
1) Policy Based Traffic
The first technique is to study the usage patterns of the subscribers. The CSPs need to identify the applications that are most frequently used and have high bandwidth demands. The CSPs may be required to perform Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to determine the kind of traffic in the network. The CSPs can then apply premium charging for these types of traffic. The CSPs need to have Policy Servers that apply different policies based on the type of traffic (data, video etc). The Service Providers can charge a premium for specific kinds of traffic usage based on the policies set. However the downside of this approach is that it may not go down well with the subscribers who have been using the flat rate charging

2) Mobile Ads
The second method which carriers can use is through mobile ads. This method avoids increasing the charge on customers. The carriers can maintain a fixed charge for the subscriber or in other words provide a subsidy to the subscriber by having the subscriber receive commercial advertisements, The Service Provider s can have a business model with the commercial provider and receive a small fee for carrying the commercial to the mobile. The mobile ads should be non-intrusive and should be non-distracting to the user. They can be displayed at the top or the bottom of the mobile phone for example when the subscriber is looking through his/her contact list. Alternatively if the subscriber is using a data intensive application the user may be required to watch a 30 sec commercial prior to the start of the video clip.

3) Revenue sharing with Content Owners
The third technique for the CSPs is to enter into an innovative business model with the content provider or content owner. Some lessons can be learnt by the business model of successful enterprises like Google, Yahoo, eBay or PayPal. These organizations receive a small fee for facilitating a particular service for example hosting an ad on the web page or facilitating a payment. So also the carriers should enter into a business model with the content owners where a small fee is received by the Service Providers for providing the network infrastructure for the music or video service. This would be akin to paying a toll for using a well maintained highway. So also the carriers should levy a small toll for the usage of it network highway.

4) App Stores
The carriers can also maintain app stores which besides providing downloadable applications should also provide for downloadable content for e.g. Music or video. So the carriers can generate revenue both from providing the content and also from providing the infrastructure for transport of the content to the mobile.

Conclusion: Some avenues for revenue generation in these times where the growth of data traffic is increasing at a tremendous pace is for the Service Providers to
1) Have the ability to differentiate traffic and use a policy manager and charge based on the data being transported. Provide a personalized service to individual users based on traffic types and charge appropriately
2) Subsidize usage for the subscriber through the delivery of mobile ads and enter into revenue share with the organization for whom the commercials are being provided
3) Levy a small charge to the content owners for the delivery of their content to the mobile users
4) Creatively use app stores for providing apps, music, video and other differentiated content.

Posted by T V Ganesh

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