Pothole Detection: Is This the Next Big Car Technology?

Source: Jaguar/Land Rover
Source: Jaguar/Land Rover

As winter’s formidable grasp gives way to summer’s soothing caress, America’s roadways are left peppered with countless tire-puncturing potholes and eroding roadways. Potholes aren’t just a threat to our tires, but are a genuine risk to our safety as drivers swerve recklessly to avoid them. It is an expensive problem to have, and according to a report from Land Rover, the cost of vehicle damage caused by potholes in the U.K. alone is estimated at around $4,349,548,000 every year.

Fed up with this issue, engineers at Land Rover/Jaguar have begun researching technologies that can identify hazards like potholes, sudden dips, and raised manhole covers so that drivers can get a warning as to what they are about to encounter and how to possibly avoid it. Systems will share data in real-time with other vehicles and authorities courtesy of the cloud, and Land Rover says “If a car can receive a warning from another vehicle about severe potholes or broken manholes ahead, then drivers would be able to slow down and avoid the danger – or the car could adjust suspension settings to reduce the impact.”

Dr. Mike Bell of Jaguar Land Rover reports that this design is also not just for safety purposes, but is being built on the pretense that the cars made by the British company are known for their comfortable ride quality. “By monitoring the motion of the vehicle and changes in the height of the suspension, the car is able to continuously adjust the vehicle’s suspension characteristics, giving passengers a more comfortable ride over uneven and damaged road surfaces.” He goes on to say that simultaneously using the information from these vehicles as “big data” is an added bonus for repair crews and is an incredibly courteous warning to anyone else traveling on a particular strip of highway.

But thus far, these technologies have only been able to detect potholes as a car drives over them, so the Rover team has decided to install an advanced forward-facing stereo digital camera on the Range Rover Evoque research vehicle in the hopes of correcting this “shortsightedness.” Bell says that hopefully this addition will help the car “predict how severe they [hazards] are before the vehicle gets near them” and that “sensing the road ahead and assessing hazards is a key building block on our journey to the autonomous car.”

Source: Youtube
Source: Youtube

Bell and his team want to develop a system that can automatically steer cars around potholes while in one lane, and if the pothole suddenly appeared to be the size of a small jacuzzi, the safety system would try and stop the car entirely. An experimental camera set-up could also take an image of the hazard so that it could be shared with road crews along with a precise GPS location.

This is a refreshingly different kind of development in the field of technological advancements, and could stand to be as widely utilized as lane departure warning systems one day. It also is a fantastic way to help municipalities maintain their roadways while keeping tabs on conditions in real-time. Receiving warnings from other cars about a pothole that’s the size of a small moon crater sounds like a fantastic feature too, especially if the pothole appears on a GPS map and shows us where it is in relation to our vehicle.

However, this design is still prepubescent at best, and has the potential of hosting quite a few drawbacks when put into operation on our vehicles. Cost is a factor, as complex, cloud-linked monitoring devices that constantly run in real-time are sure to run quite the polished penny. There also is the issue with decreased reliability on aging systems, and whether they will continue to “tag” road hazards accurately and speedily. And then there is the whole safety side of things: While having a system that automatically causes your car to swerve or slow down may sound great in theory, what happens when there suddenly a “bug” in the system? If a freshly patched pothole suddenly looks like the Grand Canyon there are going to be traffic delays and accidents galore as cars overreact to these false alarms.

But if this set-up is anything like what is already in the Evoque we can safely say that it is going to be top-notch in every way imaginable. We also feel that the British brand will surely try to find a way to incorporate these technologies into the systems that are already in place. Maybe the pothole detection camera can be tethered in with the digital cameras on the aforementioned crossover, or the cloud-based connection can work alongside the den-based dealer connectivity center. So until then we will just have to keep dodging those rim-bending bastards and hope that our tax dollars really are helping America’s roads.

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