Modern sensor technology may simplify the maintenance of Sweden's gravel roads, making it considerably more efficient. New research from Linnaeus University paves the way for safer roads, which could also bring positive environmental and health impacts.
In Sweden, gravel roads stretch over 100,000 kilometres, playing a pivotal role in the infrastructure of the countryside. They connect our communities, and their condition is crucial for ensuring smooth and safe transport of both people and goods. Issues like dust, potholes, rutting, and loose gravel make many gravel roads uncomfortable and challenging to navigate, leading to environmental and health problems for humans, animals, and plants.
Introducing data-driven methods for gravel road maintenance ensures an effective assessment and classification of the road's condition.
Currently, road conditions are mainly assessed through visual inspections and manual methods. However, visual inspections can be unreliable due to human errors, while manual methods are time-consuming. The new research in mechanical engineering at Linnaeus University introduces a sophisticated data-driven method that could revolutionise how we perceive and maintain our roads.
"In my thesis, I explored the use of sensors fitted in vehicles to measure vibrations and movements, providing insights into the necessary maintenance. Not just specialised sensors were used but also regular smartphones. Depending on what's being measured, the sensor's location within the vehicle can be adjusted. To gauge ride quality, they were placed at vibration-sensitive spots. In our tests, sensors were positioned near the driver's seat, and a smartphone was mounted to the windscreen to capture the road surface", explains Keegan Mbiyana.
Maintenance is presently conducted on a fixed schedule, which isn't optimal as requirements change over time.
The study employed sensor technology to assess the condition of gravel roads, introducing a data-driven maintenance method. A structured evaluation process is outlined to ensure efficient monitoring and evaluation of gravel roads.
By incorporating data-driven techniques in the maintenance process, decisions can be based more on objective data about the road's condition, rather than an inspector's subjective judgment or experience.
"Introducing data-driven methods for gravel road maintenance ensures an effective assessment and classification of the road's condition. It guarantees that maintenance is based on actual requirements rather than pre-determined intervals", says Keegan Mbiyana.
With this new technology, roads won't just be safer and more comfortable to drive on; the adverse effects on the environment and health from dust and potholes will also decrease.
According to the study, the use of data-driven methods will benefit both road users and road owners. Operational and maintenance costs for vehicles will decrease, and travel time can be reduced.
"With this new technology, roads won't just be safer and more comfortable to drive on; the adverse effects on the environment and health from dust and potholes will also decrease", argues Keegan Mbiyana.
"In upcoming projects, we are also exploring the potential of using machine learning and AI to assess road quality", Mbiyana concludes.
Link to the thesis
"On the establishment of a data-driven approach to gravel road maintenance": https://lnu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:1784279
Why are gravel roads important?
Accessibility: Gravel roads provide access to remote and less-populated areas lacking tarmacked roads, vital for residents, farmers, and businesses.
Economic Development: Gravel roads facilitate transport, promoting economic growth by easing trade, tourism, and market accessibility.
Agriculture: Gravel roads are crucial for farming, allowing transport of agricultural products to markets and the supply of resources to farms.
Emergencies: Gravel roads play a key role during emergencies like natural disasters, serving as evacuation routes and granting access to affected areas. Environment: Gravel roads can be more eco-friendly and less expensive to construct and maintain than tarmacked roads, especially in remote regions.
Environment: Gravel roads can be more eco-friendly and less expensive to construct and maintain than tarmacked roads, especially in remote regions.