The way potholes are identified and managed could be transformed by a new ‘pothole spotter’ system using high definition cameras attached to refuse collection vehicles (RCVs).
The Department for Transport (DfT) and Thurrock and York councils have teamed up for a £183,000 pilot scheme, thought to be the first of its kind.
Transport Network understands the idea could be applied to buses in York, where the DfT hopes to work with operators.
An integrated navigation system and intelligent software will be deployed to build up an image library of the councils’ highways and help officers learn how to identify problems before they become potholes.
DfT officials hope that by frequently collecting images of the road surface, existing problems can be identified and managed at a much earlier stage, to enable maintenance works to be carried out to prevent potholes forming in the first place.
It would also improve safety by helping councils respond to dangerous defects across the network quicker, as well as helping repudiate bogus compensation claims.
Junior vice president of the Local Government Technical Advisers Group, John Lamb, told Transport Network: ' I think the automation in the manner being suggested here will represent a significant disruptive force as to how highway inspection is carried out.
'Using big data techniques means that every little divot will be picked up and, as and when, it grows into a pothole it will provide solid empirical evidence as to life expectancy of carriageway in a way that presently is left to partial interpretation by inspectors, who are solely focused on compliance against the code of practice as opposed to micro-analysis of each and every defect.'
Leader of Thurrock Council, Cllr Rob Gledhill, said: ‘This is an exciting addition to the work already underway as we continue the Clean it, Cut it, Fill it initiative.
‘Thurrock was selected as it is recognised by Government as being ready to test innovative new techniques to improve the efficiency of local services. I look forward to sharing how it worked with colleagues in other local authorities.’
Thurrock is working with strategic consultancy, SOENECS, and technical partner Gaist to deliver the innovation project.
David Greenfield, founder of SOENECS, said: ‘RCVs are the only vehicles to regularly traverse local highway networks weekly, and follow the same route each time.
‘This makes them the best vehicle to use to monitor the condition of roads, pavements and street furniture, identifying issues before they become problems.
‘The ultimate local authority efficiency – one vehicle two roles.’
Director of innovation and research of Gaist, Dr Stephen Remde, said: ’This project is really exciting and will capture the highest ever levels of technically advanced data that will provide us with a real insight into how roads deteriorate and defects form such as potholes, surface durability and day to day traffic volume damage.
‘Computer vision technology is advancing rapidly and we seek to capitalise on new "Deep Learning" data analysis techniques we have, to analyse and manage the huge volumes of video and related data that can be used to improve the safety of roads and provide more cost effective repairs.’