Every time a car drives over a pothole in Panama City, the pothole automatically tweets a complaint at the city’s public works department.
“I’ll open a new business: Golf in cement,” one pothole recently tweeted in Spanish from the El Hueco Twittero (“The Tweeting Hole”) account. “I feel terrible. I just caused tire damage to an old lady’s car,” said another.
The project, which uses sensors placed in the cement to detect the thud of a passing tire, was the brainchild of advertising agency P4 Ogilvy & Mather. “The spark itself I guess came from looking for real life problems we can help resolve with a creative idea,” says Pinky Mon, vice president of strategic planning for the agency.
As Panama City quickly grows, the local streets are falling further into disrepair. “The problem as described in the case video is very real,” says Mon. “Advertising agencies–or us at least–do try to come up we ideas that have impact in peoples lives, far beyond just selling a product.”
The advertisers reached out to Telemetro, a local news agency that often covers problems in public services, to partner on the project, and the city started to listen: Shortly after some of the tweets, the potholes started to finally get fixed. “I am sure that response has not been 100%, but it is evident, and serious cases have been attended in less than 24 hours,” Mon says.
It’s one of several projects that demonstrates how the Internet of things can help improve cities, from tweeting trash cans that tell garbage trucks when they’re ready to be emptied to gadgets that help crowdsource maps of smog.
“This technology is used less than it could or should be,” says Mon. “Sensors, face recognition software, real time messages thru mobile units–all of these are technologies that could very well be used to change cities for the better and for the good of people.”