By Diego Sanchez Gallo
Walking down the street or on a sidewalk shouldn’t be hazardous to your health. But uneven pathways, cracks in the pavement, or some other unexpected obstacle trip up pedestrians all the time; and at worst, force those with disabilities to take inconvenient detours. IBM Research wants you to take a picture of your next stumbling block with the Rota Acessível (English version: Accessible Way) app – and help others avoid the same pitfall.
Inspired by another IBM crowdsource app, CreekWatch, my team in Sao Paulo developed a way for citizens to collaborate on “watching” their urban infrastructure – acting as human sensors of the city. Accessible Way geo-localizes the photos that users take, and puts them on a map visible to others using the app.
Putting pothole pictures in the cloud
The app is simple to use. Just open it, point your phone toward the accessibility issue you’ve stumbled on, and take a picture. You can also choose a few attributes relevant for the issue’s specific category (curbs, sidewalks, and others), add optional comments, and upload the report for processing. We discovered that users comment on the type of accessibility challenges that others may face. For example, the photo caption of a pothole may point out that it could hinder those in a wheelchair, or a mother pushing a stroller.
Sidewalk issues such as bad steps, potholes and narrow sidewalks dominate, with 60 percent of all reports. Curb ramp needs and tactile signaling problems (stop signs and direction signs) rank second and third, with a little more than 13 percent of the reports, each. All of this data – photos, categories, comments – uploads to our SoftLayer cloud. The resulting information shows up as a flag at the reported location, which other users can click on for more details.
Mobilizing volunteer accessibility improvement
Our research colleagues in Tokyo have also been working on a technology that crowdsources volunteer efforts to manually fix pathways that may obstruct the visually impaired. We thought the functionality was a perfect fit with Accessible Way. So, with their help, and a partnership with the Associação de Assistência à Criança Deficiente (AACD), which works for the welfare of those with disabilities across Brazil, we customized the app’s mobile data collector specifically for accessibility needs.
AACD and three of their partners then took up the effort of mapping the route issues around their own buildings. This side project helped us define Accessible Way’s categories and attributes. Now, AACD is organizing volunteer “walking tours” to identify and report accessibility issues. In the future, we hope to work directly with city officials to involve local government in the process of reviewing – and potentially acting upon – what their citizens report via the app.
Accessible Way has been downloaded more than 500 times, and used across several cities in Brazil, including São Paulo, São Bernardo do Campo, Bragança Paulista, Bauru, Rio de Janeiro, Florianópolis, and Anápolis, as well as in New Jersey and San Francisco in the U.S., and Melbourne, Australia. You can start uploading photos of what obstructs your daily routine, too. The app is available for free in English and Portuguese in the App Store, and Google Play.