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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Computer Programs Increase Accuracy, Reduce Time of Roadway Inspections

May 29, 2002

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) inspects the surface conditions of each mile of state-maintained roads every year. That's more than 79,000 miles of roadway, a daunting task even with the help of modern monitoring equipment. University of Texas at Arlington Computer Science and Engineering Professor Roger Walker has designed computer systems and software that can speed the process and produce a better picture of road surface conditions.

Walker has been assisting TxDOT since 1971, conducting research on measuring methods and designing embedded (task specific) computer systems that gather information from various vehicle-mounted sensors and create an accurate report of a roadway's ruts and roughness. The system also checks for undulations caused by swelling clay soils or by poorly laid concrete. Walker often conducts three or four research projects each year, amounting to about $300,000 in grant funding.

"Texas has one of the best highway management programs in the nation," said Walker. "That's due to TxDOT's abilities to accurately determine pavement conditions and assign crews to correct problems before conditions deteriorate into an unusable roadway. Everything they do is based on factual data and not at the whim of local interests. It's very cost effective."

Walker accompanies monitoring crews the first time they use his instruments and programs. Measurements are made using acoustic transducers, lasers, accelerometers and other sensors that are controlled with embedded computer systems. Data from all sources is sampled and compared to create an accurate record of surface conditions. Additional comparisons are sometimes made using written evaluations by drivers and passengers as they cover a predetermined section of highway. "Drivers' input is important," says Walker, "because some things about driving are very subjective, and TxDOT is striving for the best ride possible."