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Innovation Economy

Site’s reviews of city blocks may stir controversy

WiTricity plans to sell a kit that shows how electricity can be sent wirelessly.

WiTricity plans to sell a kit that shows how electricity can be sent wirelessly.

Excerpts from the Innovation Economy blog.

On the Internet, you can dole out stars and write reviews for doctors, hotels, restaurants, and even your evil employer. Now a Cambridge start-up, Block Avenue, will do the same for the street where you live. The site is to be launched this week, and, after getting a sneak peek of the company’s demo, I have two thoughts: It’s very cool, and it’s destined to cause controversy.

Block Avenue has divided the United States into 1.89 billion squares, 300 feet long on each side. “Then, we went and we collected as much data as we could,” said founder Tony Longo. That included information about public transit, car- and bike-sharing locations; recent crimes and nearby sex offenders; amenities such as gyms, parks, dry cleaners, grocery stores, and restaurants; and schools. Based on the information Block Avenue collects, its software algorithm assigns a grade, from A through F.

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Visitors to the site can also write reviews of blocks, even rating a block for noise, cleanliness, traffic levels, and community spirit. User reviews will influence the automatic grades that Block Avenue assigns.

The company will be launched in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. During testing this summer, Block Avenue gathered about 2,000 user reviews, Longo said.

Now, the prospective controversy.

Longo plans to overlay Census data about race, income, average age, and ethnicity onto Block Avenue’s maps, which could upset people. (Though sites like Mixed Metro already offer up some of that information.) No homeowner will want to admit he lives on a Grade D or F block, especially when selling property. So I predict there will be a natural tilt toward grade inflation. (I also think it will be a challenge to keep boosterish real estate agents from writing gushy reviews.)

Longo, as it happens, was previously the founder of the online brokerage CondoDomain, and he acknowledges the potential for problems. “We will have a very careful eye on real estate agents, developers, and property managers,” he said.

The site plans to make money by selling advertising and licensing data to real estate sites — think Zillow and Trulia — as well as by packaging data for brokers to create reports about specific neighborhoods.

Longo has raised $200,000 in funding. The company is based at Dogpatch Labs in Kendall Square, a collaborative workspace underwritten by Polaris Venture Partners.

Let there be light

WiTricity’s chief executive, Eric Giler, was in Shanghai last week to announce his start-up will soon sell a $1,000 kit that demonstrates how electricity can be sent wirelessly over a distance of about one foot, even through a brick wall or wood tabletop.

The kit, called Prodigy, shows how a WiTricity-designed base station can transmit about a watt of power omnidirectionally and light up a plastic disk that contains LED bulbs. WiTricity uses magnetic fields oscillating at a particular frequency to transfer power efficiently over short distances. The approach was first demonstrated at MIT in 2007.

“We get thousands of inquiries about potential applications of the technology, where people have ideas and they want to get their hands on our stuff,” said David Schatz, director of business development at WiTricity.

The kit is targeted at engineers who want to show the technology to their managers, as well as product designers and inventors. (Science educators and academic researchers can get it for at $750.) WiTricity hopes some purchasers will license the technology. The company has been working primarily with consumer electronics and automotive companies on cordless recharging of laptops, mobile phones, and electric vehicles.

The first 40 kits go to WiTricity employees, Schatz said, who presumably can now show off to friends and family the rather amazing stuff they’ve been working on at the office.

Visit www.boston.com/innovationor the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily.
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