Speeding innovation for industry
Road maintenance could soon become easier and
more cost effective. Road maintenance vehicle maker Secmair worked with CEA
Tech with an AI- and computer-vision powered decision-assistance system for its
bitumen emulsion sprayers and gravel spreaders.
Everyday road maintenance often involves
spraying bitumen and spreading gravel on cracked parts of the road to resurface
them. Secmair asked the engineers at the CEA Tech Pays de la Loire regional
branch to come up with a system to automatically detect cracks to be filled in
and use AI to control how much bitumen and gravel is applied and where.
Traditionally, the repair vehicles that do this work are equipped with cameras
that capture images of the road ahead. The operator then uses a joystick to
control where the bitumen and gravel are applied. The information controls the
equipment at the back of the vehicle, which either opens to release material or
remains closed depending on the areas selected by the operator. These kinds of
repairs are carried out at a speed of around 3.5 kph.
Researchers from the CEA Tech Pays de la Loire regional branch developed
software to handle this tedious task. A neural network “learned” to observe the
road surface. Initially, the images captured by the cameras were analyzed to
identify cracks. If a given “crack density” threshold is exceeded, the software
recommends the cracks be filled, and sends a map of the area to be repaired to
the vehicle’s system. At the end of the process, the operator can view the
software’s recommendations on a display and manually override them.
Not only does this make the operator’s job easier and safer, it also reduces
the amount of material used, which results in cost savings, too. Initial tests
carried out in 2020 were encouraging. And, if more advanced tests scheduled for
next spring go well, the solution could be on the market in 2021.
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.