Once a City Positioning System is deployed, one very interesting usecase that should be on the shortlist is the Quantified Commute.

Through the NYCDataWell Launcher App, a user can register Work and Home locations as well as the timings of the typical workweek schedule. 

With enough users, the MTA can really do super-efficient allocation of transportation resources.  And with the City Navigation System enabled and powered by the CPS, the City can even do proactive notification and re-routing as illustrated in the NYCDataWell Story when the Dad was automatically notified of a changed bike route when the City's emergency services had to close down a section of Broadway.

The City can even track multi-modal commute patterns based on heuristics (3mph - walking rate; connection times between transfers, may it be subway-to-subway or bus-to-subway; recognize when the commuter is in a car, taxi or biking, etc. etc)

This usecase alone, in our opinion, justifies the installation of a City Positioning System and makes a compelling case for something similar to the DataWell.

When you turn off your smartphone' Wi-Fi, you'll notice that apps that require location services become less accurate.  On IOS, the operating system will even prompt you to turn on Wi-Fi again to get better accuracy.

What does Wi-Fi have to do with location services, you may ask?

This is because companies like Google and Skyhook Wireless use Wi-Fi positioning technology to supplement GPS satellite signals, which specially in an Urban Canyon like NYC, do not work reliably.

The thing with this technology is that it depends on having a reliable census of the Wi-Fi routers in an area.  Though routers, once deployed, do not necessarily move, the technology only gives you a resolution of 10-20 meters, not accurate enough for dense urban environments like NYC.

With chip manufacturers already manufacturing chipsets that support high-resolution Indoor Positioning Technology, registering DWs down to the last inch allows higher-precision.

And doing so will enable a whole slew of super-accurate, hyperlocal usecases and business models.  Not just indoor, but underground and at the street-level too.

AuthorJoel Natividad

In our view, CUSP is going to be to New York City, what Stanford was to Silicon Valley - becoming the engine for Urban Informatics Innovation as it defines the "Science of Cities."

And its roster of partners is very impressive - big household names that can bring to bear tremendous resources, vastly accelerating this process.

We feel that part of the Gov 2.0 proposition is to get people away from thinking of "Government as a Vending Machine". And by actively engaging specialized communities like Developers, Civic Hackers, Students and Researchers using the DataWell as a source of information but also a target of Innovation.

But what about "regular citizens?"  They too can play a part, just by using the NYCDataWell Launcher app, regular citizens can also contribute.  How?

When we imagined the Launcher app, we also thought that the City, and CUSP in particular can use it as a "Pocket Lab."  After all, current mobile devices are bristling with sensors, and perhaps, the local Maker community (we're looking at you ITP and AdaFruit) can even create a whole slew of external instrumentation packages that citizens can deploy not only on their current smartphones, but also on their old ones.

The Launcher App will have the ability to run these CUSP experiments in the background.

Imagine CUSP publishing research packages that citizens can sign up for:

  • ambient noise measurement
  • walking pace for each neighborhood
  • hyperlocalized commute times, that they can use to fine-tune public transportation resource allocation
  • and with a weather package, maybe old smartphones can be deployed as micro-weather stations indoors and outdoors
  • the possibilities are just limitless!

And why would citizens sign up for these experiments?  They can then see the data, and how they compare with the population.  It will even have the side benefit of "behaviorally nudging" them to modify their behavior for the better.

What kind of sensors can be deployed in the City?

  1. CPS-enhanced location (location down to 1 meter, as well as altitude, and below-street level readings)
  2. Friend map states (“I need help (levels 1-10), “I’m OK”, “I’m lost”, “Mommy I’m here”, “Marathon mode”, “commuting to home/work”, “stuck in traffic”).  Friend map states automatically transition to different states based on algorithm/rules.  Can be in anonymous mode too.
  3. Citizen home/work locations.  This allows MTA to better plan rush hour patterns
  4. Ambient noise
  5. Cameras (picture and video for citizen reporting; augmented reality)
  6. Citizen identity information (for expedited access to secure areas, no need to fill out forms)
  7. NFC (for public transit ticketing, also as form of gov issued ID that private companies can use for authentication)At building entrances, tap NFC, this shows verified picture of bearer for guard to check, randomly checks with city-maintained auth server.  Businesses with high-security reqts can subscribe to mandatory confirmation service, another revenue source for the City, on top of which private security firms can build high security solutions.


Landlines and payphones are dying for a reason - they're relics of the Analog Age.

In this Digital Age, Voice is just another application. We now use freemium services like Skype, Google Voice, and numerous other VoIP services on a regular basis. Even modern-day PBXes use VoIP to carry voice.

So why not use VoIP with the Reinvented Payphone?

And even provide it for free!  Perhaps, users can place a one-minute audio call for free by viewing a short ad.   And should they want to have Times Square in the background, have a teleconference option for a nominal amount.

AuthorJoel Natividad

In the pictures of the DataWell in its base plate configuration, you'll notice that it has two "names":

  • Pinpoint Name: 17:BWY:04 - which stands for 17th and Broadway, DataWell 4, and
  • Befriend Name: Gandhi

The Pinpoint name is straightforward enough and it echoes Manhattan's grid system.  The Befriend name is voted on by the community (perhaps, the local Community Board can organize this) when each DataWell is commissioned.

For the example above, we chose Gandhi because of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the southwest corner of Union Square on the intersection of, you guessed it, 17th & Broadway.

While we were brainstorming Naming,  we used Befriend Names like:

  • Jane (for Jane Jacobs) near her old house on 555 Hudson Street
  • Teddy (for Teddy Roosevelt)  His birthplace is just around the corner from Ecco Design's office
  • Dick (for Dick Clark) for a Times Square DataWell nearest the spot where they normally put up the New Year countdown stage
  • Ed (for Ed Koch) in City Hall Park.  And all mayors will have DWs named after them in the park.

The current generation of smartphones are bristling with sensors.  The current iPhone 5 for instance has:

  • 2 cameras
  • 2 mics
  • GPS
  • Compass
  • Accelerometer
  • Ambient Light Sensor
  • Gyroscope

Should the City create the dotNYC companion app we envisioned, these sensors can be put to good use.  To get pictures of potholes, measure ambient noise, track commuting times,  etc.

And as smartphones get more sophisticated, sensing capabilities can get even more sophisticated.  Old smartphones can even be repurposed as sensors.


As the Tidy Street Project demonstrates, giving hyperlocalized signals to the citizenry gives them the necessary information to modify their behavior for the better.

Instead of doing this for one block for two months, why not do it at scale for the whole city?  Maybe by creating a parameterized actionboard (an actionable dashboard) that citizens can always refer to, and can even be displayed as Neighborhood Service Announcements (hyperlocalized Public Service Announcements) at the corner DW?

And even celebrate blocks that top the rankings, giving a  feedback loop to local residents.