Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Bumps of New York City

Many years ago I briefly worked as a road surveyor. The job involved walking five to ten miles of road a day, painstakingly measuring every road irregularity (e.g. potholes) and recording the data on a handheld computer. The data was then used by the local authority to identify the most damaged roads and schedule road repairs.

This was in the days before the availability of commercial GPS units so everything had to be measured by hand and measuring wheel. These days I imagine the job could be done at one hundred times the speed with cars fitted with a GPS unit and an accelerometer. Or you could even do it by bike.

Varun Adibhatla has created an interesting visualization of this kind of road surface survey carried out using a bicycle and an iPhone's accelerometer. Bumpiness in NYC shows the trail of a bike journey in New York. The bike's track on the map is colored by 'bumpiness', with the most bumpy sections colored in red.

Many laptops these days also have built-in accelerometers. The Quake-Catcher Network realized that they could create the world’s largest and densest earthquake monitoring system simply by using the data from accelerometers in the world's laptop computers.

The Quake-Catcher Network links participating laptops into a single coordinated network that can detect and analyze earthquakes faster and better than ever before. QCN uses Google Maps to show the data collected from participating laptops and from participating desktop computers with USB sensors. The map also shows the latest USGS reported earthquakes.

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