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'Chalkbot' tweets the streets of the Tour de France

By Andrew Heining / July 14, 2009

Team Astana riders Lance Armstrong (l.) and Andreas Kloden ride in the 10th stage of the 2009 Tour de France between Limoges and Issoudun, France, on Tuesday.

Eric Gaillard/Reuters

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Anyone who's watched coverage of the grueling mountain stages of the Tour de France has seen them – the messages of support painted on the roads ahead of the race. This year they've taken a decidedly techie turn.

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A collaboration between Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG foundation and Nike has brought about "Chalkbot," a robot that paints messages of support submitted by the public on the Tour's roads in water-soluble (and biodegradable soy-based) yellow paint. Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France champion, has said that his main motivation for returning to professional cycling was to raise cancer awareness.

The rig used in the campaign, developed by Pittsburgh-based mobile software company Deeplocal and Standard Robot, is a similar concept to what "Bikes Against Bush" creator Joshua Kinberg used (and was arrested for) at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. Mr. Kinsberg's bike-mounted rig used cans of water-soluble paint to write messages sent from the Web on the streets of New York. Each message was geotagged, and a built-in digital camera sent pictures of the message to its submitter.

Chalkbot works much the same way – only it's towed by a truck, not a bike (I'm not the only one disappointed by this.) Messages are photographed as they're painted, and a picture and GPS coordinates are sent to the message's submitter. The device is towed at 5 m.p.h., and was painting 200 messages a day at the start of the Tour, Deeplocal CEO Nathan Martin told CNN.

To add your message, hop on Twitter and post a tweet to @chalkbot followed by the #LIVESTRONG hashtag. By SMS, text LIVESTRONG followed by your message to 36453. Or, submit a message on the Web, here.

The Livestrong Foundation was cited in a Mashable post last month for how it uses social media for good. It's worth a read.

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