Chokwe Selassie is on a mission to help drivers avoid potholes. The eighth-grader was inspired to kick off his crusade on a recent morning, when his mother was driving him to school. Their car was damaged as it went over a huge pothole in the middle of the street in their hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. “I decided I was going to do something about the pothole problem in my city," Chokwe, 13, told TFK. His solution: an app that warns drivers when there is a pothole ahead.
Chokwe developed the app with his friends Rodriguez Ratliff and Emmanuel Brooks. "When the app detects a pothole, it is highlighted in red,” Chokwe says. “And if you get close to the pothole, your phone will warn you with a beep.” Drivers can also use the app to report any potholes they encounter, and to look for other routes they can take to avoid roads that have them.
The app relies on current available information about the streets of Jackson, according to Chokwe. “It works by using the city’s 311 call system, so it uses information already stored in a database,” he says. Through the call system, citizens dial 3-1-1 to report non-emergency problems—which include potholes. As Chokwe and his friends built the encoding for the app prototype, they also went street by street throughout the city. They determined that focusing on the 10 busiest streets in Jackson would give them a large enough sample size to test the prototype.
To get some help in developing the app, the boys took part in a Minority Male Makers Program sponsored by Verizon and held at Jackson State University. The program provides nearly 1,000 African-American middle-school boys across the country with training in advanced technology.
"The students were really excited to participate and learn new things,” Valerie Bradley says. She is Chokwe's principal at Blackburn Middle School. “They learned 3-D printing and design, and how to create apps." Through the program, Chokwe says, he and his friends received encouragement and guidance.
Although the app isn’t yet available for sale, Chokwe is already looking for ways to improve it. The prototype remains limited to 10 streets in Jackson, but he hopes to add more, so that it includes every street in the city. And then he wants to go even farther. “I want to keep working on the app until it’s nationwide," Chokwe says.