trash collection (DRogatnev/Shutterstock.com)

2019 Government Innovation Awards

Turning trash trucks into a mobile sensor network

As part of its waste management program, the city of Montgomery, Ala., took on the additional job of monitoring streets for potential safety hazards. Because 60 sanitation vehicles travel every street at least twice a week, officials decided to equip them with technology to identify potholes, high grass, damaged street signs and broken traffic signals.

Conserving Resources by Adapting Smart Technology in Waste Management and Recycling Services

City of Montgomery, Ala.

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Drivers have a smartphone mounted on their dashboards, and they log problems by tapping a customized screen. They also have the option of stopping to take a photograph of significant issues, IT Manager Savio Dias said.

“Essentially, this program has equipped the city’s trucks to become mobile data-reporting assets [that] help us analyze how to optimize routes and services while generating a cost savings,” he said.

Using service confirmation algorithms that automatically verify waste and recycling pickups, the technology identifies patterns in the speed, motion and vibration of each truck as it makes its stops. Drivers and supervisors benefit by receiving digital routing, vehicle tracking and diagnostic information for proactive maintenance.

Supervisory staff can now track down to the household level which neighborhoods have been serviced, and during a six-month pilot test, drivers documented more than 25,000 times they were unable to service a location and why. All the data that drivers and managers log is immediately available to other city departments.

“The biggest monetary benefit has been in the fleet management side of the program,” Dias said. “Alerts to the fleet managers and drivers allow us to address problems before they cause significant damage to the vehicle.” 

The effort is part of the city’s “overall plan to replace traditional pen-and-paper charting with digital documentation,” he added. It “is much more cost-effective, time-saving and accessible in public records.”

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