Smartphones and algorithms could change the way cities are maintained

Potholes can be a dangerous hazard for road users around the world.

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From street lights and crossroads to trash cans and sidewalks, the cities we live in require constant maintenance and upkeep to ensure they are functioning properly.

Roads are no different: Large cracks and potholes pose a number of potentially dangerous hazards for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and local authorities.

According to the 2020 edition of the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) annual road maintenance survey, preventing such deterioration can have significant financial implications.

In FY 2019/20, the “reactive” repair of filling a single pothole in England, London and Wales cost an average of £ 70.91 ($ 94.86). When this repair was scheduled, the AIA report puts the average cost at £ 43.10.

Given the above, it may come as no surprise that a number of companies and organizations are currently working on systems and processes to identify problems on the road before they become a major problem.

Earlier this year the UK Department of Transport announced that it would be working with local motorway authorities, digital mapping company Gaist and companies such as Uber, Deliveroo and Ocado to identify what are known as “pothole hotspots” in England.

And on Monday, Statkraft Ventures, backed by the state-owned Kraftkraft Group, a Norwegian state-owned energy company, announced that it has invested in Vialytics, a German company that uses windshield-mounted smartphones and algorithms to monitor road conditions.

Put simply, the system that Vialytics uses includes a specially adapted smartphone that is attached to the windshield of a vehicle.

The user opens an app on the phone that collects road-based data such as markings, cracks and manholes. This information is passed on to the company’s system, which uses an algorithm to analyze the images for damage.

Any problems detected by the system are then georeferenced and uploaded to the company’s web GIS – a visual tool that allows users to see where maintenance may be required.

Statkraft Ventures said the new investment – the announcement did not reveal the amount – would allow Vialytics to “further accelerate its expansion as a partner for cities and towns”.

Back in England, the University of Liverpool announced in October that it had launched a new company focused on commercializing research related to road faults.

The overall goal of Robotiz3d Ltd is to use robotics and other technologies to improve how problems such as cracks and potholes on roads are detected and then corrected.

Going forward, the company – a joint venture established by the university in collaboration with A2e Ltd – will seek to develop its Autonomous Road Repair System (ARRES).

At the time, Paolo Paoletti, Robotiz3d’s chief technology officer, said the proposed system “would be able to autonomously detect and characterize road defects such as cracks and potholes, assess and predict the severity of such defects, and repair cracks with it they don’t develop. ” in potholes. “

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