21 September 1999

Cracking Up?

by Kate Melville

Australia has some of the toughest road conditions on earth ranging from deserts and tropical rainforests to ice and snow. With this variation comes enormous costs for maintaining roads in a safe state. To help the Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales (RTA) teamed up with CSIRO to develop RoadCrack, an automated system for surveying the state of the nation's roads.

According to Michael Bushby of the RTA, ""The extent and importance of our road network system requires more efficient road assessment systems. Maintenance costs can be minimised if small cracks are detected and treated before they develop and cause major damage. Our system is designed to provide that sort of predictive power".

RoadCrack uses data acquisition modules that are mounted beneath a vehicle chassis. These scan the road by using a special reflector that can capture digital images of even the tiniest cracks (down to 1mm wide) while travelling at up to 100 km/h. RoadCrack is the first system developed that meets the RTA's standards for automated, objective and accurate data collection. Hopefully it will result in better targeting of decision making and hence better roads for users.

This technological advance was realised through the CSIRO's development of algorithms and computer hardware for extracting the relevant information in real time at highway speeds.

The RTA has successfully used the RoadCrack system to survey its network of road pavement for the past two years, completing over 40,000 km of survey work. Already interest in the commercialisation of the technology has been generated from Europe and the USA. Unfortunately at this stage the techniology still requires significant investment by potential partners to take the prototype into a production model.

So we may all be waiting some time yet to have better roads.