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San José Wants Local Innovators to Create Graffiti-Removal Device

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Faster removal of visual blight for less money is the goal of a new competition open to entrepreneurs and students.

The city of San José and California transportation officials want to speed up and reduce the cost of hard-to-reach graffiti removal in the city, so they're challenging entrepreneurs and students to design a device for the task.

Highway 101 lanes were closed for three nights to eliminate graffiti from a two-mile section of freeway using bucket cranes, other equipment and dozens of city and state workers. Overpasses, signage, sound walls and railroad trestles are no small feat to clean, and the final price tag for the graffiti removal was about $60,000.

Planning such efforts can take weeks or months, during which time the graffiti remains up, and tagging reoccurs relatively quickly after projects wrap up.

“Graffiti is not only unsightly and causes neighborhoods to look blighted and distressed but also hazardous when freeway signs are covered and are obscured for motorists,” said Bijan Sartipi, District 4 director for Caltrans, in the announcement. The transit agency is also sponsoring the competition along with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Phase one of the competition involves participants submitting ideas, including concept art and budget proposals, while requesting materials. A panel of representatives from the partner agencies will divvy up $20,000 among the most promising ideas to develop prototypes and compete for the $5,000 grand prize and one-on-one patent assistance.

Caltrans and San José will be the winning invention’s first customers, receiving free use for a two-year demonstration period.

“Silicon Valley has given us personal computing, search engines and social media—all within recent memory,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement. “Now, we’re turning to these same innovators to dramatically reduce the costs of graffiti eradication and cure a big headache for cities around the world.”

The Graffiti Removal Device Competition is the first project in a broader initiative, Unleash Your Geek, engaging local innovators to develop civic solutions. More information on the challenge can be found here.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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