Heads up, developers: DOT wants an address crowdsourcing app

The Transportation Department plans to soon launch a challenge for developers to create a crowdsourcing application that would get citizens to report addresses with geolocations, an official told FedScoop on Friday.

The Transportation Department plans to launch a challenge soon asking developers to create a crowdsourcing application for American citizens to report addresses with geolocations, an official told FedScoop Friday.

The department — in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau — has been developing a plan for a consistent public data set that maps the country’s addresses, and one way the DOT hopes to get more address information is by crowdsourcing it, said William Tewelow, a geospatial specialist on special assignment to the Department of Transportation to manage the effort.

[Read more: Coming Soon: An open database of every U.S. address]

“All developers, this is an opportunity for them to showcase their skills, maybe win some prizes and awards,” Tewelow said.


An open address information data set will help first responders and emergency services in local communities orient themselves. During natural disasters, for example, it can help responders locate people or assess damage when roads are covered and signs torn down, Tewelow said.

The data set will eliminate the redundancy of several government entities collecting similar data and provide it with a consistent schema.

The data could also support innovation in areas like driverless cars or drones, Tewelow said.

“It helps the community at the local level” with emergency services, he said. “And at the county, state and national level it helps to save money and reduce cost, and then helps to promote small business innovation and emerging technologies.”

Challenge participants will be asked to create a crowdsourcing application to help people across the country easily input address information. But citizens won’t be giving away personally identifiable information, Tewelow said.


The schema will include street addresses, and latitude and longitude coordinates, or use the national grid coordinate system, Tewelow said. It could also include in its metadata an identifier for whether it is commercial or residential and an explanation of the location in reference to the larger building — such as the driveway, the main entrance, the rooftop, etc.

This could be helpful, for example, for emergency personnel to know where to enter a building, he said.

Crowdsourcing will particularly help rural areas in the U.S. get this data, Tewelow said.

“They don’t really have a geographic information office — they don’t have the expertise, the personnel, the technology. So how do you build a data set for those areas?” he said. “And the way we’ve pretty much figured out is to do it through a crowdsourcing application.”

It will likely be a 45- to 60-day challenge, Tewelow said, and several companies — MapboxDigitalGlobeMapillaryBoundless and Maptitude, to name a few — have already committed to being partners, sponsors or both.


The DOT will choose an overall winner, but companies might choose other winners in certain categories, Tewelow said.

The plan is not to roll out the winning application as a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem, he said. Rather, the application will be open source and housed on GitHub, and states or local governments can then take it and adapt it to suit their communities.

The states are “pretty much on board” with the idea of an open address information data set, Tewelow said. And the National States Geographic Information Council has said “a nationwide digital map layer of all addressed locations will be one of the most impactful map information resources.”

But some communities are still resistant, Tewelow said.

“There are communities within the states that are not on board with it because they don’t have the money to build, to develop it,” he said. “Or they actually have an address data set but they use it to produce revenue for their community by selling it.”

Samantha Ehlinger

Written by Samantha Ehlinger

Samantha Ehlinger is a technology reporter for FedScoop. Her work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and several McClatchy papers, including Miami Herald and The State. She was a part of a McClatchy investigative team for the “Irradiated” project on nuclear worker conditions, which won a McClatchy President’s Award. She is a graduate of Texas Christian University. Contact Samantha via email at, or follow her on Twitter at @samehlinger. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here:

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