How to Locate, Tag and Report Potholes
Ok, so you might be wondering what business potholes have on a blog about technology, just bear with me.
I’m working with a partner on implementing chatbots for a local council. Whilst working with their highways department this topic came up. You see, the problem is that in our general day to lives most of us refer to locations or places using things like addresses or postcodes, but these are simply not granular enough to be able to pin point problems on a road, identify a broken street lamp or a missing drain cover.
For example, the image below shows a hypothetical pothole on a typical street. The red box shows the area covered by a postcode compared to where the pothole might be. Postcodes actually vary in size, so in a more rural area this might be even bigger.
So if I was reporting a pothole or broken streetlamp to this local council, providing a postcode is a good start but not super useful. Councils tend to look for trends or multiple reports on things before they send someone out to survey or fix it, so if there were ten reports on this postcode, is that ten separate potholes or ten report for the same pothole?
Finding places with more accuracy
There is actually a solution to this and one I had heard of several years ago, and much to my surprise, one of the local council’s highway’s team said that they have people reporting potholes and lamp failures using it.
The technology solution I am talking about is called What3Words.
Living in the UK or other Western countries we might have all got a bit used to being able to find somewhere by postal address or post code, however, there are even places amongst these well addressed locations that are unaddressed.
Leaving to one side the rather odd way buildings and apartments in Spain are addressed, have you ever tried to arrange to meet someone on a beach, or to meet up with friends for a picnic or walk, perhaps even to find someone at a concert or festival? If so, you’ll know too well that there just isn’t a well defined way to share your place and location with another person – “Near the sea, on the pebbly bit just down from the people with the yellow sunshade” might be good enough, but often you need something a little more accurate and more reliable. Especially for reporting potholes and in the future, making sure you get your drone delivery!
What3Words have created a unique address for every 3 meter square of the planet.
For example I am writing this article at a location you can describe using traditional coordinates like this: N51° 23.264′ W001° 02.247′ or, what I hope you will agree is a much more simple way, like this: wider.full.models (click here for a map)
Not only this, but they’ve made it so easy to share that place with others too. Every 3 meter square on the planet has its own unique 3 words to describe it. No complicated addresses or long longitude/latitudes, just three simple words
Let’s imagine we’re meeting up for a picnic in Hyde Park. It’s a pretty big place, and today it’s really busy because (for once) it’s not raining. But I’ve found a really nice spot, not too busy, nice view etc. I’m standing here on the phone to you waving my hands in the air saying, “No, the other left! That’s it this way. No, hang on that’s not you. Where are you??”. Or I could say, I’m at “candle.also.focal”.
Putting it into action
So the next time you want to report a pothole or two, or broken street lamp, whip out the what3words app (Android and Apple versions available), call the council and tell them “Let me give you the three word address using what3words”.
Also, next time you’re meeting friends outdoors, give it a go too. I’d love to know what you think, so please get in touch let me know.
The other thing I like to do is simply browse around the map, looking for random three word sentences and seeing where they relate to. For example, I think it’s kind of neat that you can navigate to the centre of London, just near the lions in Trafalgar Square, using “daring.lion.race“.
Share yours with me
If you have others, do share them with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Use the hashtags #wtiTech and #what3words