Christoph Mertz spends his days looking at cracks in the street.
“Once you’re involved in something like this, you see every crack in the road, every pothole, you say, ‘ohhh, this is interesting,’” he said as he wove around sizeable potholes on the narrow streets behind Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh.
A small camera mounted on his windshield much like a GPS device shot video of the pavement unspooling in front of him as he drove. He said he relished finding really deteriorated streets because “it’s a really good example for my data.”
Mertz is a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. He works with CMU’s Traffic 21, a research arm of the university focusing on practical solutions to transportation problems, and he’s built a computer program that uses photos to detect cracks in street pavement. He’s been testing it out using photos extracted from the video he shoots in his own car, but he’s also working with the city to test the technology. He’s placed cameras inside three city vehicles.
For Pittsburgh, which currently uses manual, visual inspections to assess city streets, the technology could one day be a more reliable and cheaper alternative tool for maintaining roads.