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This Cycling App Auto-Spray-Paints Potholes So Cities Know Where Repairs Are Needed

Auto-Complain makes your annoyance at poor road conditions very visible.

Florian Born isn’t the type of person who likes complaining. So when the designer started bumping into potholes as he cycled around Berlin, he wasn’t going to call up the city to tell it where to send its repair truck.

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He had a better idea: make an app that would take care of the process for him.

Auto-Complain works with a phone’s accelerometer to identify bumps in the road. When users ride over the obstacle, the app maps the location, then sends a signal to an onboard paint gun that sprays a mark on the road. When riders complete their journey, it also generates a PDF that’s sent automatically to a city road department.

No need for any long letters or phone calls.

“If you make it available for lots of people, you get statistics on where the most problems are and where is the highest density of bike riders facing problems,” Born says. “That’s a good thing for riders and the government because they don’t have to manually look for potholes.”

Riders can set the app to be more or less sensitive, depending on what they consider to be a disturbance. Born, 25, sees the system mainly for actual bike lanes rather than open roads, though it could be used for that as well. The paint is chalk-based and nonpermanent, much like the stuff repair teams use anyway.

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Born, a master’s student, developed the idea while on an Ars Electronica residency in Austria, and then later on a trip to Japan (though he had to do without the spray paint in Tokyo). So far, he hasn’t released the system to the public, but he hopes to next February once he’s finished his degree.

“I want to let other people use it and let people mark potholes, because it’s not just a Berlin thing,” he says. “There are potholes all over the world.”

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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