With climate change becoming more of an issue around the world, there is an increasing danger to road users in the form of broken surfaces due to extreme swings in temperatures. In many instances these climactic conditions manifest themselves in the forms of potholes and Jaguar Land Rover is researching a way to help drivers avoid them.
Many jurisdictions have taken to the web to encourage drivers to report potholes in order to help service crews attend to them and fill them in as quickly as possible, but the English manufacturer is studying away to use today’s connected cars do it automatically.
With the proliferation of on-board camera technology and connectivity, Jaguar Land Rover is looking at ways to have vehicle systems capture broken road data and send it to the cloud in real time, to alert other motorists and to aid infrastructure authorities to prioritize repairs.
The way it aids traffic is that if a vehicle receives information about severe potholes ahead, that information could be displayed on maps in real time, much in the same way that today’s cars receive data about road construction and traffic congestion. Drivers would then be able to reduce speed or pick an alternative route to avoid the dangers. Alternatively, more sophisticated suspension systems could adjust themselves to better soak up the pavement irregularities.
“Our MagneRide equipped Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport vehicles feature sophisticated sensors that allow the vehicle to profile the road surface under the wheels and identify potholes, raised manholes and broken drain covers,” said Dr Mike Bell, Global Connected Car Director at Jaguar Land Rover. “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.”
MagneRide is a high-performance, semi-active suspension control system that responds in real time to road and driving conditions based on input from sensors that monitor body and wheel motion. Magnetic particles in the damping fluid allow the system to respond instantly to increase or decrease viscosity of the fluid and make the suspension stiffer or softer.
“While this gives our customers a more comfortable ride, we think there is a huge opportunity to turn the information from these vehicle sensors into ‘big data’ and share it for the benefit of other road users. This could help prevent billions of pounds of vehicle damage and make road repairs more effective,” added Dr. Bell.
Jaguar Land Rover reports that vehicle damage (including wheel damage and tire punctures) related to potholes in the UK alone averages about 2.8 billion pounds annually (about $5.4 billion Canadian).
The company currently is conducting research using a Range Rover Evoque, and is prepared to move to the next phase of installing new road surface sensing technology and/or a forward-facing stereo digital camera.
“At the moment, the most accurate data comes from when the car has driven over the pothole or manhole”, added Dr. Bell. “So we are also researching how we could improve the measurement and accuracy of pothole detection by scanning the road ahead, so the car could predict how severe they are before the vehicle gets near them.
The project has the side benefit of also aiding in the design of future autonomous vehicles, and particularly their safety in traffic.
“Ultimately, sensing the road ahead and assessing hazards is a key building block on our journey to the autonomous car,” he explained. “We are looking to develop systems that could automatically guide a car around potholes without the car leaving its lane and causing a danger to other drivers. If the pothole hazard was significant enough, safety systems could slow or even stop the car to minimize the impact. This could all help make future autonomous driving a safe and enjoyable reality.”
Beyond the safety to machine and man, the project might also aid in infrastructure upkeep, and Jaguar Land Rover is working with Coventry City Council to investigate how the municipality can work with the data generated from the manufacturer’s research.
“As part of our ‘Smart Cities’ strategy, we will be investigating how Jaguar Land Rover’s Pothole Alert system could supply us with data in real-time from thousands of connected cars right across our road network,” said Councillor Rachel Lancaster, Cabinet Member for Public Services at Coventry City Council. “We already collect lots of data which we monitor very carefully ourselves, but having this kind of extra information might allow us to further improve our maintenance programmes which would save the taxpayer money. This could give us a very accurate, minute-by-minute picture of damage to road surfaces, manholes and drains in real time.”
The project will investigate whether an image captured by an onboard camera could be combined with GPS location to provide a real-time picture of the costs associated with filling a pothole
“We are just beginning to explore how we could use this technology, but data that includes the severity of the issue, its exact location and an image has huge potential,” added Councillor Lancaster. “This is just the sort of information that could help us identify the cause of the problem, prioritise it and contact the owner of the manhole or drain to get it fixed more quickly.”