Each week we will bring you a summary of what happened this week on our site, on Twitter, and in the wider world of civic data. Suggest stories on Twitter with #ThisWeekInData.
Waze Helps Norfolk, Virginia Track Flooding — The Virginian-Pilot
Last year, whilst conducting a pilot program to track flooding, Norfolk’s Office of Resilience discovered that reports of flooding filed by drivers using the Waze app were just as responsive as the actual sensors. Now, the city receives updates every five minutes on its roadways from Waze data, and plans to use the information to predict flooding in the future, so that it may send out preemptive warnings to residents.
Nearby cities are similarly enthusiastic about potential applications for Waze data. According to Norfolk’s deputy resilience officer, the city of Virginia Beach reached out to him to learn how it could use Waze following serious flooding last week.
The State CDO Network recently offered a set of recommendations to the federal government following its release of an initial draft of a data strategy, which includes a request for input and feedback. The first item on the Network’s list: The federal government need to recognize and engage the important role that state and local programs play in federal data collection processes. In addition, the Network recommends that the federal agencies begin to accept data from states more frequently, rather than annually. Overall, the Network believes that the current draft constitutes a “solid first step” and hopes it will lead to more state/federal collaboration on data regulations.
In 2015, René Kizilcec, a Stanford PhD student at the time, conducted a study on the effects of algorithm transparency on trust and received an interesting result: While participants in the study were more trustworthy of an assignment-grading algorithm after receiving a partial explanation, those who received more complete explanations trusted the algorithm the same or less than those who received no explanation at all.
This gives some idea of how to respond to the increasing complexity and opacity of machine-learning algorithms. In the end, it appears people need only partial explanations that provide basic insight into the logic that determines algorithmic decisions. Including too many technical details, on the other hand, can alienate people, as well as make the algorithm vulnerable to exploitation.
With the help of the Panasonic Corp. of North America, The Colorado Department of Transportation will begin work installing a “vehicle-to-everything,” or V2X system consisting of roadside units and “connected” vehicles capable of sharing traffic data with one another. The hope is that the new flood of data will help the DoT to improve traffic safety.
Others have begun or will begin similar V2X systems. For example, Columbus, Ohio recently announced that it will install 1,800 onboard devices in public and private cars, and Tampa Bay, Florida is currently conducting a similar pilot.
Following the establishment of a $100 million school safety grant initiative, some schools in Wisconsin have requested and are installing gunshot detection systems capable of detecting and locating active shooters. The Kenosha Unified School District selected a system manufactured by EAGL Technology, which pairs gunshot detection with an emergency notification system that directs students and staff to safe evacuation routes.
Residents of Brandywine, Delaware are now using cheap sensors to gather air quality data to measure the effects of emissions produced by nearby power plants. The project was started with the help of the Thriving Earth Exchange, a nonprofit that pairs communities with scientists to solve local issues. The hope is that the data gathered by the sensors will provide Brandywine, an unincorporated community without a mayor our town council, a greater voice in the plant approval process.
Two significant hurdles, however, remain: The sensors residents are using, while affordable, do not meet federal regulations, so the EPA is unlikely to consider the data they produce, and Brandywine currently lacks the funds to purchase air quality monitors that meet the mark. In the meantime, residents can use the sensors to schedule outdoor activities when the air quality is best.
The city of Boulder, Colorado is in the process of redesigning its website bouldercolorado.gov, and has reached out to residents to weigh in. On August 9th, the city will hold a Website Improvement Project Open House, at which residents can share feedback on the website and how it can better serve their needs.
6 Startups to Join Partnership Program in Kansas City, MO – Smart Cities Dive
This fall, 6 startups will join the Innovation Partnership Program in Kansas City, Missouri. The 13-week urban innovation program partners startups with relevant city departments and gives them 20 hours a week of free office space in City Hall to collaboratively solve problems. Participating startups include a crisis management organization aiming to use data to assess the difficulty of rescue operations, a local affordable housing program working to bridge the digital divide through connectivity and a smart home package, and a sewer/water services software tool that uses data diagnose the source of systemic sewer problems.
By collaborating on data analysis and solutions to systemic problems in the city, Kansas City stands to benefit from huge cost reductions in data analysis and emergency responses in crisis management, increased energy efficiency for housing, an extended lifespan for its sewers, and much more.
After sorting through thousands of tweets according to location and the presence of words like “wildfire” and “smoke,” scientists from the U.S. Forestry Service concluded that Twitter may be useful for estimating the air quality in wildfire-prone areas. The conclusion is corroborated by a study conducted in 2014, and the practice of predicting air quality using social media has already been adopted by some academics. Sonya Sachdeva, a lead researcher on the most recent study, predicts that social media posts will be used in the future to create heat maps grading areas near wildfires according to the number of people in need.
Students Bring Smart City Concepts to Life — Smart Cities Dive
The NYU Tandon School of Engineering recently held its Science of Smart Cities (SoSC) expo, in which 65 middle school students from across New York City presented smart city solutions they had developed while attending the four week summer program. SoSC was originally planned to be an adult education program, but Ben Esner, the program’s founder, ultimately realized the value of the second-hand education received by the parents and guardians of participants.
According to Esner, concerns about privacy will always be at the forefront of the discussion of smart cities, and believes that programs like SoSC will serve to increase people’s understanding of the technology and mitigate these concerns.
Esner also believes that SoSC has served to foster a new generation of smart city technicians and designers.
“These are some kids who we definitely transform,” he said. “…[T]here is a group of young people come here and they leave here saying ‘I want to be an engineer.’ And I think they do.”