smartphone app

Cairo takes to crowdsourcing to tackle traffic

With the revolution over, Cairo citizens are banding together through social media to take on a new challenge -- the city's notoriously terrible traffic. Egypt-based company Bey2ollak has devised a smartphone app that connects users to report on the latest traffic conditions throughout Cairo.

In a city where getting from Point A to Point B may easily take 2 hours, Bey2ollak (an Arabic term that roughly translates to "word on the street") is a welcome resource to avoid the most heavily congested roads. And road users aren't the only ones taken with the new app; Bey2ollak was recently awarded first prize in a Google-sponsored competition that sought out Egypt's best start-up enterprises.

The functionality of the app is simple, which has likely contributed to its success. Users can post updates through the app to let others know how light or heavy traffic is along a certain route, and they can check the most recent posts for a certain corridor before or during travel.

Not only can these features make travel easier for individual road users, but they may also help to mitigate or even reduce traffic congestion along some streets. Those stuck in traffic may use the app to re-route to a less congested road, and drivers who have not started their trip may check the app in advance to avoid traffic altogether. The app can essentially help to spread traffic out throughout the city rather than having it concentrated along a few over-used corridors. Users may also decide to delay certain trips, such as running errands or other non-work trips, if traffic conditions are very poor.

Perhaps the most important influence of the Bey2ollak app is its potential to reduce the total number of motorized trips taken within Cairo, thereby reducing overall congestion. Those who see in advance how bad the roads are may weigh the decision to travel more carefully and may simply decide to stay at home or take a shorter trip by foot or bike. In this way, Bey2ollak and other traffic alert apps may provide unanticipated congestion mitigation benefits to urban areas in addition to the intended time savings benefits to individual users.

~ Allison Bullock

Food Waste

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwGHlUAj078&w=440&h=253] No one ever enjoys wasting something of their own – time, money, opportunities – so, why do we waste so much food, especially when there are almost a billion hungry people in the world?  Ever been at a meeting where food was provided and noticed how much was left over?  There are many answers to the question of why, probably too many to list here.  But regardless of why it is created in the first place, the consequences of food waste are dire (e.g. wasted money, wasted energy in waste transport and food production, wasted space in landfills, excess CO2, methane, and leachate emissions).

Without getting into exactly why people are wasting so much food, we can talk about solutions.  One non-profit, City Harvest, collects wasted food at restaurants to give to the hungry.  They’ve recently launched a smartphone app to help restaurant goers navigate to a restaurant from which City Harvest will collect.

Think that’s fueling the food waste by encouraging eating out, where portions tend to be much too large?  What if City Harvest teamed up with Halfsies, another non-profit that partners with restaurants so that customers can “go halfsies” – pay full price for half the food with proceeds going to helping those in need of food.

Some cities have started creating value out of food waste by composting household and commercial organic material (see Portland, San Francisco, Rapid City, South Dakota, and Ottawa).

You can even capture the gas emissions from compost to convert to green energy.

Looking forward to award submissions relating to solving the food waste problem in Birmingham, England!

- Terra Curtis