Ford researches pothole warnings in real time

Potholes account for billions in insurance claims and car repairs yearly

Published: February 16, 2017, 9:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:18 PM

Jaguar Land Rover pothole alert

With sudden dramatic swings in temperature causing precipitation to dump and then drain, road surfaces are going to be taking a beating over the next month, which means it’s not just spring that’s just around the corner but also, literally, potholes.

Ford is trying to help out by researching a crowd-sourced virtual pothole map which would update in real time and be uploaded to a vehicle’s on-board navigation system to act much in the same way as real-time traffic — the system would show which roads have been identified as having potholes, and how bad they are, and then suggest re-routed options to avoid potential damage to car components.

It may be a bit too late for this coming pothole season, as Ford plans on testing the app later in the year on extensive broken road surfaces at its Lommel Proving Ground, in Belgium, home of the 2-km “nightmare” road that’s filled with replicas of some of the world’s worst potholes.

Potholes are naturally occurring phenomena resulting from moisture seeping into pavement and the base below, expanding as temperatures drop and the water freezes and then contracting as temperatures rise and water melts and evaporates.

Rough roads are reported to account for about a third of road incidents every year, and potholes play a big part in making roads rougher either by the holes themselves or the patchwork that goes into fixing them.

Potholes are reported to account for billions of dollars in insurance claims and repair costs (averaging about $500 Canadian per repair) every year, and as bad as they are for vehicles and property, they are potentially more hazardous for bicycles and even pedestrians. It’s gotten to be so expensive that there are law-firms in the US that specialize in pothole litigation.

“A virtual pothole map could highlight a new pothole the minute it appears and almost immediately warn other drivers that there is a hazard ahead,” said Uwe Hoffmann, research engineer, Advanced Chassis Control Technologies, Ford of Europe. “Our cars already feature sensors that detect potholes and now we are looking at taking this to the next level.”

Some Ford models are already equipped with on-board sensors for its Continuously Controlled Damping with Pothole Mitigation system, which reads the road surface and reacts to hazards such as potholes. The next step is to use the cameras, which are going to start proliferating on vehicles in anticipation of autonomous driving, to also scan the road for potholes and then use the onboard connectivity to alert the driver and send the data to the cloud so other road users would be alerted to the situation in real time.

Work is also being done on active suspensions to quickly adapt to a pothole situation and massively reduce the severity of the impact.