Pothole alert system from Tata Motors’ subsidiary can be a big boon to Indian car owners

The 'Pothole Alert' research technology could help save motorists billions of pounds in punctures, vehicle damage and road accidents every year

Rains are here again, and so are potholes! If you are an Indian, you will dread riding cars on roads which have gaping potholes. Accidents, traffic jams and back breaking rides are common and a never ending story, which is repeated with consistency year after year.

Potholes are clearly a nightmare in India. Every year, in major cities of Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore, authorities spend crores of rupees in repairing potholes. For example, the Brihanbumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has spent close to Rs 336 crore for repairing potholes in Mumbai. However, despite crores being spent, every year the same problem crops up again.

Can technology come to the rescue? While these are early days, a technology developed by Jaguar Land Rover (a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Motors since 2008 when the latter acquired it from Ford) can prove to be a big advantage for not only car owners but also town planners. In a press statement, the company has said that it is researching a new connected car technology that will allow a vehicle to identify the location and severity of potholes, broken drains and manhole covers, and then share this data in real-time via the cloud with other vehicles and with road authorities to help them prioritize repairs.

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This technology could be a big boon to a country like India. Typically, accidents resulting from potholes can be avoided if a car can receive a warning from another vehicle about severe potholes or broken manholes ahead. Drivers then would be able to slow down and avoid the danger – or the car could adjust suspension settings to reduce the impact and smooth the ride. This could help reduce the potential for punctures, wheel and vehicle damage as well as road accidents.

“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. 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, ” said Dr Mike Bell, Global Connected Car Director, Jaguar Land Rover. Dr Bell believes that there is a huge opportunity to turn the information from 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.

See the technology in action in the video below:

Improving the accuracy of pothole detection

The next stage of the project at Jaguar Land Rover’s Advanced Research Centre in the UK is to install new road surface sensing technology in the Range Rover Evoque research vehicle, including an advanced forward-facing stereo digital camera.

“At the moment the most accurate data comes from when the car has driven over the pothole or manhole. 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,” says Dr Bell.

“Ultimately, sensing the road ahead and assessing hazards is a key building block on our journey to the autonomous car. In the future, 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.”

Jaguar Land Rover’s research team will also be working with innovation partner Coventry City Council to understand how road profile information could be shared with road authorities, and exactly what data would be most useful for their roads maintenance teams to identify and prioritize repairs.

As part of Coventry City Council’s ‘Smart Cities’ strategy, the team is investigating how Jaguar Land Rover’s Pothole Alert system could supply it with data in real-time from thousands of connected cars right across the road network. This could give the authorities an accurate, minute-by-minute picture of damage to road surfaces, manholes and drains in real time.  The project will also investigate whether Jaguar Land Rover’s experimental camera could take an image of the pothole or damaged manhole – and share this with the road authorities, together with a GPS location.

The ‘Pothole Alert’ research technology could help save motorists billions of pounds in punctures, vehicle damage and road accidents every year. The technology can also help in identifying the location and severity of potholes and adjust suspension in milliseconds. If this data is shared via the cloud with other cars, all drivers can get a warning about dangerous potholes. Sharing data about potholes with road authorities could enhance the speed and efficiency of road repairs.

While this project is currently underway in the UK, there is no reason why this technology cannot be implemented in India, where crores of rupees are spent every year in repairing potholes with no permanent solution in sight.

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