So I was thinking about this a while ago, and I meant to post about it, but then I think I got irritated by Captain America #600 and I kind of forgot. It's an idea for our improving our nation's increasingly decrepit system of roads, and it's the sort of thing that would be a) cheap, b) possibly implemented on a grassroots scale, and c) a neat use of our nation's ultimate resource, its geeks.
My idea is to build a little widget that could be attached to any car, probably somewhere around the wheels or axles (below the shocks.) The widget would have a GPS sensor, a simple shock sensor, and a little transmitter in it that continually sent that data out. Then, little "collection stations" dotted alongside the road would pick up that information and collect it, collate it, and sort it. The net result? You would have a real-time map of how bumpy every single inch of every road in America is. The car sensor would notice how much it was getting jarred around at any one spot, and send that info to the station, which would turn it into a map. This means that anyone who needs to know what roads are in most urgent need of repair doesn't need to drive around and look at them, or wait for someone to call the highway department and complain about a big pothole; they'd know instantly, just by looking at the map, where our highway dollars are most needed. The only drawback I see would be in trying to convince people that no, it can't be used by the men in the black helicopters to track your car and raise your taxes/take your guns away/arrest you for smoking dope, and honestly, it'd probably be pretty safe to make voluntary anyway.
I think the widget would be cheap and easy to build, the sort of thing any hobbyist could do--not me, of course, because I can barely figure out how string works. But for someone tech-savvy, I'm sure it would be a snap. Anyone reading this know whether I'm right, or just blowing smoke?