Tech-Savvy Atlantans Collecting Data to Improve City Living

ATLANTA – Deep in a wooded ravine on a vacant parcel in Peoplestown sits a mountain of old tires. There’s no telling how long they’ve been sitting there collecting water, breeding mosquitoes and sullying the property. Or how many there are.

“That’s hundreds. At least 200, maybe more,” said longtime community activist Columbus Ward, as he escorted volunteers from Georgia State University around the neighborhood.

During previous cleanups of illegally dumped tires, Ward and others would simply drive around and note the locations of the eyesores. In recent years, they started working with volunteers to create a spreadsheet filled with the information.

Now, thanks to the GA Tires app built by Georgia State University’s Department of Geosciences, they can create a photo-filled database of problem areas with a couple quick taps on their smartphones. They simply pinpoint their location, enter in the number of tires, snap and upload a photo, and press submit. The data is compiled in a database available to residents, police, elected officials — pretty much anyone.

“It helps us identify places and send volunteers to what we call ‘hot spots’ to utilize our time better,” Ward says. “It tells us how many tires we need to pick up, how many volunteers, trucks, and manpower we need.”

Across town, Georgia Tech professor Randall Guensler’s research team is outfitting wheelchairs with Toshiba tablets. Over the next few months, dozens of professors, students, and volunteers will push the devices across the city’s estimated 2,200 miles of sidewalks. Along the way, the tablets’ cameras will record more than 6,000 hours of footage, capturing every inch of public walkways.

“You can’t make public policy without data,” says Guensler. “You can’t do future planning without data. This makes it tenable for everybody.”

The painstaking process ultimately will provide Atlanta officials with a comprehensive map showing the condition of the city’s sidewalks that the general public will be able to access online. Guensler believes his team will save the city hours of costly labor and give construction workers a clear idea of the needed repairs…

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