Vehicle-Mounted Sensors See and Feel Potholes

By April 29, 2020 No Comments

Tactile Mobility is building a platform for cars and trucks to monitor road quality. Motorists, fleets, and DOTs to get real-time data on bumps in the road.

Where it comes to the future of surface transportation – the ways and means to travel and transport on roads, streets and highways – it’s clear that engineers and technologists are working overtime. So many innovations are afoot: roads with embedded solar panels to power street lights and traffic signals; embedded cables to power electric vehicles by way of magnetic induction; “smart traffic signs” that wirelessly provide hazard warnings to cars and drivers instead of depending on visibility in poor weather; and “smart intersections” that alter the length of green lights to adapt to traffic levels and oncoming emergency vehicles.

But before these gee-whiz vehicle innovations come to fruition, we still have pavement pitted with potholes. Lots and lots of potholes. And with 2.7 million miles of asphalt pavement in the US alone, it’s unlikely that any of them will benefit from Jetsons-like technology in the near- or even mid-term future.

But one intervening technology that might reduce potholes is Tactile Mobile, which melds road-bump movement – “tactility,” as the company describes it – with visual data (cameras). It’s an electronic sensing and processing system that both sees and feels pavement anomalies.

Vehicles equipped with tactile in-vehicle processors record wheel speed (all four wheels), revolutions per minute (RPM), and torque transfer. That data then is then processed according to a proprietary algorithm, employing artificial intelligence (AI) to generate real-time actionable insights on the vehicle-road dynamics.

The data from each vehicle is ingested in the cloud along with all other vehicles using the same technology plying the same and all other roads. The benefits of this technology imparts to the vehicle owner, as well as owners of commercial fleets where efficiencies (engine, braking, fuel, tires), can sizably affect operating costs.

“SurfaceDNA is based on real time detection of pavement surface micro-events in the vehicle using Tactile Mobility,” says Yagil Tzur, head of product for Tactile Mobility. SurfaceDNA is a trademarked name for the portion of the product that is sold to departments of transportation, mapping companies, and insurers, among others; VehicleDNA, also trademarked, is the software that is vehicle-specific. “These streams of micro-events are uploaded to [our] Tactile Cloud which uses crowd sourcing to create several map layers including distresses and alerts. The alerts represent high priority events, which are transmitted and processed immediately in the cloud in real time. High priority events include, for example, high impact new potholes, hydroplaning, low grip conditions, and more.”

In other words, the data can identify where pavement improvements are needed. Cities and states with road maintenance authority can use the data to make repairs soon after the need to fill potholes and other pavement breaks is first identified. Early repairs in asphalt pavement generally are most cost effective.

Of course the more vehicles that are equipped with the technology the greater the data and more effective the analyses and services they provide. “The technology is based on crowd sourcing and relies on the availability of a large number of vehicles carrying the technology,” says Tzur.

And to what extent does that exist currently? He says the technology is already in test in existing vehicles in four municipalities in the US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. “Tactile Mobility is engaged with few large, global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to start rolling out its embedded software as part of vehicle production,” continues Tzur. “Availability is expected by 2021. And from that point and onwards, it will grow as a product of additional OEMs implementing Tactile Mobility’s embedded solution as well as in existing OEMs, multiplying their number of vehicles year over year.”

Tzur emphasizes that many municipalities currently conduct road condition surveys manually every 12 to 24 months, which might be flawed and not reflect where cars and trucks drive the most. “Tactile Mobility’s technology bridges the gap between both approaches as its solution is accurate, highly refreshed, and available in real time,” he says.