Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Civic-Minded Mind At Work

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?


cunit said...

Great idea. If the general public aren't happy about having one then local highways agencies could have them fitted to all government-owned vehicles.

RichardAK said...

The problem with this idea, simply put, is that it is a very clever solution to a non-existent problem. Finding out which highways are in good condition is already easy and cheap, and in no way constitutes a significant obstacle to maintaining our country's infrastructure.

The real obstacle is political. Our highways and bridges are built and maintained by the government, and politicians have an incentive to spend money in ways that garners attention for themselves. Maintaining existing roads and bridges in good working order does not excite the press; building new roads and bridges is much more likely to garner media attention. As a result, older roads and bridges are allowed to fall into disrepair while new ones are built.

Of course, since the most necessary and vital roads and bridges tend to get built first, and thus be the oldest, the most important parts of our infrastructure tend to be in the worst condition.

Anonymous said...

"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"

Sorry, but technologically, there is almost no way to keep it from being used to track your car movements, which could indirectly be used for the other purposes you note.

However, politicians have openly admitted that cell phones are already being used to track people's movements and listen in on their conversations even when they think the phone is turned off, and no one has stopped using cell phones.

So the issue is a non-issue in the modern day when everyone has given up on privacy.

(Oh, and say "hi" to the government while you read this, because they know you are on this webpage right now.)