Adding a more detailed assessment of damage and repairs on roadways to its software, the Pittsburgh-based startup aims to help governments expedite planning and maintenance during a budget-strapped time.
Navigating the post-COVID realities of tightening budgets and deferred infrastructure maintenance, the Pittsburgh-based startup RoadBotics is trying to shave time off some of the more labor-intensive aspects of road assessment. The company announced updates to its online platform last week, and its president is hoping it prompts clients to tackle preventative maintenance before it’s too late.
Next month is the four-year anniversary of the launch of RoadWay, RoadBotics’ proprietary, interactive platform for analyzing and mapping pavement quality and features. It works in tandem with the RoadBotics mobile app, which collects images of roadways via smartphones positioned in the windshields of government vehicles, which the platform then analyzes to produce color-coded, 1-5 quality ratings for each 10-foot stretch of road. With this information, public works agencies can prioritize road maintenance projects.
Besides a few new data tables and mapping features, the latest update to this platform gives higher-paying customers greater detail and a more fine-grained rating system. It flags exactly where all the potholes, cracks, patches and sealants are, along with a high-definition pavement condition index (HD-PCI) score on a scale of 0-100 for each 10-foot stretch.
The company’s president, Ben Schmidt, told Government Technology the innovation of using machine learning to produce an HD-PCI score is in both accuracy and efficiency. It’s more accurate, he said, because it eliminates sampling by grading every 10-foot section of the road, rather than only grading a few samples and then applying the average to the entire road. It also eliminates the need for an intern or civil engineer to walk an entire road network and subjectively fill out a grading rubric.
“That job changes into, here’s all the places that RoadBotics has identified as ‘we need to follow up with this.’ You go to that location, stand on the street and come up with, what am I going to do here? Do I want to do a chip seal, do I want to do a crack seal, do I want to mill and fill it?” Schmidt said. “For our clients, this is a huge time saver, because it goes from spending weeks to assess your network to days, and then you spend the rest of that time figuring out how you want to do your management and maintenance.”
Franklin Stephens, an office manager at Texas-based engineering firm Schaumburg & Polk, said the product’s usefulness is in helping clients better understand their infrastructure assets. He said in an email that he’s been using RoadBotics for about a year to produce road-maintenance strategies for cities and counties.
“The PCI parameter has been around for a long time and people in the industry are familiar with it,” he wrote. “The HD-PCI numeric allows us to communicate RoadBotics' scoring system with PCI to help our clients understand RoadBotics' results better.”
Schmidt said RoadBotics has clients in more than 250 communities worldwide — including a few in the U.K. and Australia — but most are smaller rural or suburban governments in the U.S. He said the pandemic has taken a toll on their tax revenue, and by extension his business, but the thing about infrastructure maintenance is that it only gets more expensive by being delayed. Schmidt likened it to car maintenance: If you wait until the engine blows, repairs will cost exponentially more than if you’d just changed the oil at the right time.
“What we’ve seen (from customers) is a slow-down, ‘let’s chat again real soon’ … I think we all know, we need to do better with our infrastructure,” he said. “It feels like one of the fundamental problems America needs to solve is, what is the actual, current condition of all of our infrastructure? From there you can get how much it’s going to cost us to make it sufficient … Our problem right now is that we don’t know where the car’s engine is. We don’t know if we’ve ever changed the oil. And I think we can help.”
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