Public pothole project pinpoints pitted Pittsburgh pavement - CTTEC - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, March 7, 2011

Public pothole project pinpoints pitted Pittsburgh pavement

Pittsburgh potholes might have met their match, or at least another challenge, in the Rodas project -- the Road Damage Assessment System.

The brainchild of a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student, a software engineer, a pair of CMU professors and a civil engineer with an MIT pedigree, challenges private citizens to battle the city's pitted pavement with their iPhones.

"I hope it spurs action in the community and local government accountability," said Todd Eichel, a recent CMU grad and software engineer who wrote the code for the project.

The project asks people who see a pothole while sitting at a red light or walking down the sidewalk to snap a picture. Facebook members can enter and upload pothole photos instantly to a map that will pinpoint their locations throughout the city.

Veronica Acha, a graduate student in public policy at CMU's Heinz School, came up with the idea of crowd-sourcing a pothole map to meet an internship requirement last year. Her adviser, economist Robert Strauss, thought it was a great way to develop an independent repository of infrastructure needs that would allow maintenance crews to schedule repair work based on top priority needs rather than political considerations.

The site went up last week and boasts 200 pothole pictures on a Google map. Acha hopes there will be thousands more in the coming weeks.

"It's really going up fast because of the condition of the roads," she said.

Takeo Kanade, the CMU robotics and computer science professor who helped develop EyeVision, the stop-action program that allowed 33 cameras to reproduce a matrix-like replay of the Super Bowl, quickly agreed to aid the project. So did Eichel and Ed Krokowski, a civil engineer who studied at MIT and is part of the George Wilson Company.

Kanade said one of the biggest advantages of Rodas is that it will allow maintenance supervisors to see a vast array of potholes at one time and schedule repair work in the most efficient fashion. He envisions a day when automobiles will include cameras that automatically create roadway records that include the size and depth of cracks and potholes.

Pittsburgh public works officials did not return calls for comment on the Rodas project.

But PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi, who visited the website, said it's an interesting concept. He said once bugs in the program are fixed, he may well pass it along to PennDOT staff.

"We welcome any resource that helps us ID potholes, so we can get them patched efficiently," Struzzi said.

"From my perspective, it's nice that people want to do that. But taking a picture and putting it on a website doesn't necessarily mean it will be addressed quickly," he said. "The quickest way to address a pothole is to call 1-800-FIXROAD. It is manned 24-7 during the winter months, and you can talk to a live person and get a pothole scheduled to be fixed as quickly as possible."

Struzzi said FIXROAD logged 1,270 pothole reports in Allegheny County in February 2010. Figures for the current year weren't immediately available.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review