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Algorithm Predicts Manhole Explosions in New York City

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manhole explosion

This manhole explosion in Brooklyn killed one Con Edison worker and injured another in 2008.

Credit: Melissa Bryant

Every so often in New York City, a disk of cast iron weighing up to 300 pounds will burst out of the street and fly as high as several stories before clattering back to the blacktop. Flames, smoke or both may issue from the breach, as if somebody had pulled hell's own pop-top.

Manhole explosions aren't just spectacular; they're dangerous. Until recently, there was no way of knowing where or when the next outburst would occur.

But in 2004 Con Edison called upon a team of Columbia University researchers for help in predicting which of New York City's manholes might be the next to blow. Led by Cynthia Rudin, now at MIT, the scientists developed an algorithm that directs a computer to identify subterranean trouble spots. Now a report in the July issue of Machine Learning suggests the researchers are winning the battle of machine versus manhole.

From Science News
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