Friday, November 22, 2019

Study: mobile apps could better measure rural road damage, help decide where repair money goes

Rural roads are a vital resource, but many states have decreased funding for rural road upkeep, so it’s important to find cost-effective, reliable ways to keep tabs on their condition. A project from the Illinois state government, spearheaded by college researchers from universities in the state, aims to change that by creating a mobile app to measure road conditions, McCall Macomber reports for the University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering.

Researchers found that most county and town officials were only able to assess road damage by the 'windshield method': looking out the windshield when driving. "This highly subjective method leads to overspending on road repairs. To explore more cost-effective measures and reliable assessments, investigators put two techniques to the test — manual and automatic assessment methods," Macomber reports. "The manual methods involved evaluating both the new Seal-coated Road Condition Index and the Unsurfaced-road Condition Index, which measure seal-coated road surfaces and surfaces on gravel and dirt roads, respectively."

But the manual methods were time-consuming, expensive, and often meant closing lanes to traffic. "The researchers then shifted their focus to automated methods, where they used three mobile apps to measure the roughness of rural roads. They tested several variables to determine the effectiveness of the apps, including road material, vehicle type, speed and even the cellphone mount," Macomber reports. "Ultimately, researchers found that apps were an effective, cost-saving real-time technique to determine road roughness conditions."

The research team is working on creating an app to report on rural road conditions. "This project is a first stepping-stone to automate low-volume or rural road condition data. The use of cellphones to collect pavement distress data is currently state of the art, and the state of Illinois is at the forefront," said researcher Mohammad Imran Hossain, a Bradley University professor.

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