Shortly after being pulled over, you get a text message. It's the cop, and they want you to get on a video call.
This is the future envisioned by Michael Odiari, an Austin entrepreneur who wants to "streamline and automate" traffic stops with a new app.
The app, called Check, allows users to upload their drivers license and car registration. Then, when the user is pulled over, the service sends a text invite to video chat with the officer, who already has the user's information.
"It's dangerous for both sides," Odiari said of police traffic stops. His app "provides a way for police and motorists to communicate without escalating" the situation.
Check's marketing promotes the app as a remedy for some of the racial disparities in regular traffic stops that garnered national attention over the summer. Late last month, protestors took to the streets in Omaha, Nebraska after police fatally shot a Black man in a traffic stop. And here in Austin, a recent study of local traffic stops in the city found black motorists were disproportionately pulled over by police.
Odiari, the son of a Nigerian immigrant, says he too has stared down the barrel of a police officer's gun in what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. During the incident, Odiari said the officer insisted that Odiari's vehicle registration was expired, even though it was not.
He believes the episode could have been smoothed with the app's services, which would transmit these documents to the officer before they approach the car.
The app also appeals to law enforcement, says Odiari, who spent more than 80 hours doing police ride-alongs. Approaching a motorist's vehicle in a traffic stop is often described in law enforcement training as one of the most dangerous situations for officers, although studies of data have challenged the notion.
Check currently has no contracts with police departments, though Odiari has been in talks with at least two in the Austin area.
Check's team is waiting to implement the video calling portion until they've built up a large enough user base through the app's other service—automating the traffic court visit.
Check has already attracted some investors.
"We would invest in this business even without the social justice component," said Oksana Malysheva, the CEO of Sputnik ATX, an investment group. "This is an elegant solution that serves both sides of the equation incredibly well."
But efforts to improve policing with technology—a movement which has gained traction in recent years through body cameras and data services like Palantir—have been criticized.
"Technology does very little to change the fundamental thing that police do," said Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in crime and law enforcement issues.
He said the very nature of policing already promotes the kind of escalation that technology like Check hopes to prevent.
Previous attempts to reform police through technology have returned mixed results. Arévalo pointed to tasers, which were promoted roughly two decades ago as a way for police to de-escalate situations with non-violent force, however results have been mixed.
But Odiari remains hopeful.
"I'm not saying this is going to solve all the problems out there," Odiari said. "But this is a start for people to tell their government how they want police to communicate with them."
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Lately, the crypto market is looking shaky.
The price of bitcoin fell by more than half from its high, the digital currency luna crashed to $0 and a type of so-called stablecoin TerraUSD has been described as dead.
Reporting from the LA Times notes that experts seeing a correlation between traditional markets and the cryptocurrency market is high right now, with plunges in one being followed by a plunge in the other. On Wednesday, stocks had their worst day in more than two years with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 1,164 points.
Crypto’s volatility has long been questioned, especially after SXSW this year was filled with Web3 enthusiasts and displays.
With 8% of Texans owning Bitcoin and many others involved in the local crypto and Web3 scene, what are they feeling amid the crash?
In a written comment to Austonia, ATX DAO said a positive with the downturn is that “most of the speculative moneygrab type projects get washed out of the market, and the quality projects that deliver real value remain and gather more attention.”
The group went on to say it could work to their advantage as they carry out their latest project: a mural at Native Hostel that will have an NFT version. They’ll use sales toward donations to HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a local nonprofit that supports artists and creatives.
Meanwhile, Yagub Rahimov, a founder of an Austin-based Web3 company explains that they aren’t really impacted by the crash.
Since the company known as Tested Web functions as a Web3 online reputation marketplace, it is utilizing blockchain technology without tokenizing.
“We are a share to earn marketplace. That means that any activity that users have on tested web.com, we will be rewarding,” Rahimov said. “Those rewards are coming in the form of rewards points. And every quarter they can opt in to receive either a gift card or a check. We are not issuing any cryptocurrency. That's one of the important elements that I believe we got it right that way.”
With recent developments at Tested Web, Rahimov says he “couldn’t be happier.” After struggling to find tech talent in early spring, he’s had a hiring spree in the last 10 days and received a $1 million grant and partnership with Silent Notary, a blockchain-powered validation provider.
But his recent business success aside, Rahimov is noticing what’s happening in the markets and predicts that the correlation between the crypto market and traditional one will be broken.
“The way Bitcoin was introduced back in 2009, it was as a reply or response to the 2008 market crash,” Rahimov said. “And it really feels like we are in 2007, 2008, actually, early, early days of the market crash. And if it becomes that way, very likely that the winner is going to be those of decentralized parties.”
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Barton Springs Pool is on a condensed schedule while the city tries to fill out its lifeguard roster.
The popular pool is currently closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while it navigates a lifeguard shortage. The city is offering bonuses to new applicants who can start by early June.
Austin Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Jodi Jay said there are 207 lifeguards ready to work and 100 incoming but the department needs 750 to be fully staffed.
Zoom out: The pandemic has had a lasting impact on hiring—in 2019, the city was able to hire 850 lifeguards. The Aquatic Department has been unable to match those numbers since it reopened training classes in spring of 2021.
Why it matters: The city needs at least 400 lifeguards, plus 30 with open water certification, to open pools on a modified schedule by June 4. Without hitting that mark, some facilities could limit hours or close.
The job pays between $16-19 an hour, anyone over 15 can get certified and there are bonuses on the table:
- $500 bonus if you get certified and start working by June 6.
- $500 bonus if you work through August 14.
- $250 bonus if you get advanced certification.