Developing Countries Developing Solutions

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Introducing mo from LUNAR Europe on Vimeo.

At least three of our partner cities in this round of the Living Labs Global Awards are seeking solutions related to transportation. Lavasa, México City, and Guadalajara, each within a developing country, want to find ways to boost alternative transportation and keep infrastructure maintenance ahead of deterioration.

According to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), by 2030 almost three quarters of the world’s population with reside in cities, with most of that urbanization taking place in developing countries. In order to maintain health and achieve sustainability in the long term, these cities must stay ahead of the game in developing the transportation infrastructure, policies, incentives, and solutions that encourage limited use of fossil fuels. Several recent concepts are relevant to the challenges faced by these cities. BitCity, a conference on Transportation, data, and technology in cities was held November 4th in New York City. The conference, which will be ongoing, is meant to highlight innovation and expose the barriers currently preventing cities from implementing that innovation. Recorded sessions can be viewed online here.

A second transportation-related tid-bit to come across the radar screen is Mo (short for mobility), which uses smartphone technology with a “bike tag” to link travel data and different modal systems. The idea is to provide users with more choices about how to get around and incentives for making responsible travel decisions. (See the video above.)

Two other mobile apps stood out in a recent scan – Avego’s instant carpool app, Shout and, a mobile web app (works on any smartphone) that compares the cost, travel time, calories burned, and CO2 emitted for several different modes of transportation (e.g. walk, bike, transit, car, or taxi).

Shout is a free mobile app that helps you arrange carpool rides with friends, family, and coworkers in real time. Current “Shout Hotspots” – locations where a critical mass of users has been reached – include Orlando, Florida; Seattle, Washington; Houston, Texas; Bergen, Norway; and Kinsale, Ireland. was developed by fellows in the Code for America program this summer. It is meant to provide users with full information, and in theory they will use that information to make sustainable, responsible transportation choices. Because it relies on several open data sources, its full features are not available in all locations yet, but it will work everywhere. Seattle and San Francisco are fully featured, with Philadelphia soon to follow.

While some of these solutions may not be appropriate for developing countries’ cities currently, these locations are rapidly adopting mobile technology and present models for how to stay ahead of the curve.

-          Terra Curtis

Real Time Ride Sharing

I’ve been so caught up with the technologies being used by San Francisco lately (CycleTracks, SFPark) that I’ve perhaps missed some of the other innovative projects happening around the US. Seattle has recently launched go520 in collaboration with Avego, a software, hardware, and consulting company focused on improving transportation efficiency.  Avego partnered with Microsoft, which has an office outside of Seattle accessible by State Route 520 (hence the name go520), to develop the go520 app for the Windows Phone 7 (an iPhone app is also on the market).  Employees were all given Microsoft Phones and hundreds have already installed and started using the app for their commute.


The pilot of go520 is funded by the State of Washington and includes 250 commuters with space for 750 passengers in their vehicles.  The app matches commuters with passengers along their route in real time.  It manages the whole process from pick-up to drop-off using GPS and automated mobile payments (there’s a financial incentive to participate as drivers split the cost of their commute with passengers they pick up; go520 also calculates that cost split automatically).

If it sounds interesting to you and you live in the Seattle area, you should try attending one of the Meetups to find out more.

- Terra Curtis


Code for America

[youtube] I was surprised when I realized I hadn’t yet blogged about Code for America.  I mentioned it in a post last week about the future of technology and planning, and then came across it again reading Arc User: The Magazine for ESRI Software Users. For those unfamiliar, ESRI is the company that produces the most widely-used GIS software – ArcMAP.  Turns out they’re also advising the Code for America program.

So, what is Code for America (CfA)?  They’re a new non-profit that teams with cities, figures out a challenge the city is facing that could be solved most cost-effectively with a tech/web 2.0 solution, and recruits technologist fellows to spend about 10 months working out the solutions.  The result is that cities get their problems solved cheaper (and faster) than doing it on their own and the technologists get to do good while doing what they love.

This round, CfA has partnered with Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.  The intent is that they’ll solve each city’s challenge in an open and transferable way, creating solutions that apply to any municipality in the US.  Boston has challenged the fellows to improve high school education through an engaging web platform; Seattle is looking for a mechanism to enable more fluid collaboration between and among communities and public safety officials; Washington DC is expanding upon its own Apps for Democracy project, creating a manual to assist other governments in their open data programs; and, Philadelphia has asked for a solution to allow citizen collaboration on neighborhood services.

CfA is currently in full swing, with all fellows working together out of San Francisco.  We should expect the first round of solutions in September with a hand-off to cities in October and November.  In the meantime, they’re already recruiting for the next team of technologist.  Act fast because the early deadline has already passed!

-Terra Curtis