WayFinder NYC

Published May-19-10

An augmented reality application for a smartphone to help users find their nearest subway, train and bus stations.

New York City's Economic Development Corporation, United States

The Story:

WayFinder NYC The Big Apple wanted some big ideas to improve government transparency and accountability and promote development of the digital media industry. So it came up with an open innovation competition to develop innovative, useful and practical applications for delivering information from its vast data mine.

Municipal and regional governments regularly collect great wells of data from many sectors - everything from hotel inspections and lists of road repairs, to property sales, citywide events and mass-transit timetables. Although most of this data is readily accessible to the public, users have to sift through a tangle of webpages to find what they are looking for.

Open Innovation Competition

To find the best way of making data available to citizens in a user-friendly form New York City's Economic Development Corporation sponsored the NYC BigApps competition. It was launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg who said: “What we’re trying to do here is create the connectedness that will benefit the city economically, civically and socially.”

Huge volumes of data were released from city agencies, and entrants to this open innovation contest had to design easy-to-use smartphone apps that incorporate some of this data, and can be updated in real time. Among the 170 or so feeds were data strings about government spending, police statistics and even the health of New York’s trees.

Prize Money

The juicy carrot that was dangled in front of participants to spur innovation was $20,000 worth of prize money plus a lunch date with Mayor Bloomberg.

This open innovation competition is a win-win situation for all concerned, and a powerful economic engine. For the participants the motivation is more than just the prize money and a hearty meal, but recognition, status, contacts, intellectual stimulation, and the possibility of creating a commercially viable product.

The app developers retain their intellectual property, but their submissions must be freely available for a year. And although the app marketplace is crowded the open innovation competition offers valuable publicity to entrants.

The city also comes out on top as it receives millions of dollars worth of innovation for a fraction of the cost.

Innovative Ideas

One hundred and twelve teams submitted apps, of which 85 were eligible. The grand prize of the inaugural competition was awarded in February 2010 to WayFinder NYC, for an awesome application that is designed for smartphones and powered by Google’s Android operating system.

It allows users to find their nearest transit options using augmented reality to overlay subway line symbols on a live view through the phone’s camera. So if a person holds their phone as if they were taking a picture, a live view of the nearest subway stations will appear. Pan left or right to see more stations.

The NYC BigApps competition will now be an annual feature, and it’s also got big companies thinking about how they can adopt an open innovation approach.

Those with archives of data or media are wondering how they can leverage creativity to come up with useful applications that could increase productivity and efficiencies and boost profits. Open innovation can give them the answers.

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