Automated System Hopes To Make Manual Road Patching A Thing Of The Past


You don’t necessarily have to live in a cold climate to experience how roads start to deteriorate once cracks begin forming in the asphalt surface. Even more frustrating than the potholes, dips, and road erosion is the snarled traffic that results from closing lanes to repair them. Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute have developed a way to detect and quickly fix these cracks with minimal human interaction, making the process a bit less painful than before.

The automatic road patcher resides on a trailer which is towed behind a service vehicle at 5 km/h. Cameras mounted near the front of the device detect cracks down to 3mm in width using an array of LED lights to guide the way. Once a fault has been detected, nozzles mounted under the trailer blast the road with liquid tar to seal the crack before it becomes a real problem.

The system seems to work reasonably well in the tests we’ve seen, and researchers are tweaking the processing software to make the rig even more effective before rolling it out on a wider scale.

[via Gizmodo]

23 thoughts on “Automated System Hopes To Make Manual Road Patching A Thing Of The Past

  1. Sounds like a smart and cost effective way to repair streets… but if water already entered the crack this usually already washed away the supporting material below or expanded when freezing and created a pocket which finally leads to a pothole. Afaik this is why in most cases the whole lane is removed and constructed anew instead of just spreading new asphalt on top of it.

    Patching the surface this way may work if the crack is just a result of thermal expansion and it is really just the top layer. So someone got to check the road condition anyway.

    Greetings from one of the few countries that don´t have a general speed limit….

    1. Here in Arizona we have little rain but a lot of heat, so we’ll get a lot of surface cracks but few potholes. That kind of system would be extremely useful here. Our roads tend to become spiderwebs of filler material before they eventually get replaced.

  2. That’s quite clever!

    3MPH is quite slow, though. I wonder if they could make a simpler version without the tar applicator; that can record video and GPS locations while driving at a faster speed.

    The video would be analysed as before, but it’s no longer necessary to do it in real-time. And a fleet of these cheaper vehicles could be deployed, quickly covering a lot of terrain and determining where repairs are actually needed.

    Then the full repair vehicle could be deployed to just those locations, only needing to slow to 3MPH when approaching an actual repair location.

    1. I am pretty sure that road analyzers like that exist, I seem to recall driving behind once. It was basically a car, with a device suspended behind it near the road surface, driving slowly (20-30km/h i think) since the car had a company name on it with “road analysis” in it, I’d say it’s a fair guess that this was exactly what it was doing :-)

    2. They are likely deploying this to stop from doing that, as that is what they do now.

      The cost of fuel plays a real role in developing this technology I bet. Not to mention decreasing the amount of time the crack is open to the elements, which thereby increases the likelihood of sealing it and not having to cover the road in a fresh layer or stripping the road and re applying tar or paving(Not sure if they even pave anymore.) it.

    3. They already make those; they use a combination of high resolution digital photography, lidar, and GPS to automatically determine road condition. This is a significant improvement over the ‘send dudes out with pickup trucks and clipboards and hope their somewhat subjective road grading evens out eventually’ technique. I’m not in the field personally, but I sat through a presentation at a GIS conference once a few years back, so YMMV etc. :) They also use side cameras to allow condition checks of road signage and such.

    1. I don’t know what the union sector is, but I have been thinking about the societal costs of automation lately.

      When Henry Ford worked some magic to make the assembly line, he had enough money to charge the equivalent of 10k for a model T and still have enough left over to double his worker’s pay. His idea was that every worker should be able to afford what they are making.

      Now it is more about maximizing wealth by reducing pay and workers, rather than trying to benefit society through progress.

      I think this is where the Walmart disposable economy comes from. Automation and outsourcing is so efficient, that the businesses selling products and services are destroying their customer’s ability to BE customers. The end result being cheaper made products that are cheaply engineered, can’t be fixed, and clog landfills. But hey! Atleast the ever increasing percentage of people making minimum wage can afford them again.

      1. You’re just looking at your backyard. Outsourcing has pulled dozens or hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and famine. Just because they’re not your neighbors doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      1. South west area, every few months white circles appear round random potholes and then a week or so later they’re filled in. But that doesn’t address the issue that most of the roads are crumbling to bits and the surfaces of some are resembling concrete dirt tracks.
        This practice has been going on for a few years now since that really bad winter spell that increased the potholes, the roads are ruining car suspensions & rims and us two wheelers have to be especially careful.

  3. In the article they said that one of their problems is that the crack detection system is purely optical and can be confused by discoloration on the road. Seems like a good application for a Kinect or something similar.

  4. Looks like a good start even though it is quite slow. Personally I think adding an additional axis of motion would help. Currently they only have one gantry axis. If they added a second (Y) axis they could increase speed and possibly have fewer nozzles. See moving conveyors and gantries for making food products that move relative to the conveyor before moving back to a home position. Not the best example but this shows my thought: (@1:17)

    1. Hint: I don’t know much about styling the posts here (don’t know how to embed like you did), but I do know that you can put a time suffix on the URL like so:
      and it will start playing from that time stamp. :-)

      Man, I wanna cookie.

  5. The system should focus on the mechanics required to apply the best patch and less on detection. Giving an operator the ability to fill many more patches in a day without fatigue and material would be a better value than automation

    It would make more sense to just provide video feed of the street under the machine and allow an operator to define when a crack is found. Then they can also provide human direction to apply the patch.

  6. How they patch roads in my hometown:

    1. A guy.
    2. A shovel.
    3. A pickup truck full of hot asphalt.

    Yeah, it’s a bit redneck. Doesn’t work very well, either.

  7. I have pondered the low performance of pouring a wide wastefull swath of tar on the surface. Only a small portion goes on the crack not even in the crack .
    My hack idea is to use tyre casing to squeege the tar into the crack and sense the rate of flow to not run out or smear too much tar out of the “tool”. The tool will wear down and so will feed the entire tire thus recycling too. It is a matter of pluging the cracks to keep out water. Potholes are sites where the road is chipped off an edge, liquified, then hydro-ejected by tyres.

  8. Why not use humans? Is it because everybody is already employed?

    But all kidding aside, I find the issue in my area is pure laziness and some unwillingness to go out and fix things (and maybe to pay for that). I have even seen permanent metal warning boards placed instead of simply pouring a small amount of tar to fix things, it’s odd and sad, so I guess I have no choice and say yes, let’s get robot to do thing if humans refuse to do any effort, but it would need to be autonomous because if it relies on people towing the thing slowly it probably leads to nothing again.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.