Aerial Unpaved Road Assessment (AURA) System Attracting International Interest

A team of Michigan Tech researchers led by Colin Brooks, has been evaluating the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) for unpaved road analysis and characterization.   A research grant from both the both the U.S. and Michigan Department of Transportation has helped transform the research team’s efforts into a commercial product that has recently gained both national and international interest.

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Colin Brooks and his team at the Michigan Tech Research Institute, outfitted a UAV with a high-resolution, 36-megapixel digital camera to gather data by taking pictures while flying over unpaved roads.  Using 3D processing software, proprietary distress detection analysis algorithms, and GIS tags, the data is sent to an asset management system used in geospatial decision support tools.  The tools help locate, characterize, and prioritize problems such as wash-boarding, ruts,  potholes and erosion.  Additionally, the software provides an up-to-date inventory of unpaved roads, something that many of the agencies managing these roads do not currently have.

Several U.S. based and one Brazilian transportation agency have partnered with Michigan Tech to make improvements to the distress detection software. There are over 1.4 million miles of unpaved roads in the United States, accounting for over 1/3 of the U.S. total.   In Brazil, the ratio is just the opposite, with well over 2/3 of roadways unpaved.   Road maintenance assessments in Brazil and several places in the U.S. have begun using the tools to help manage the problems. 

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Unpaved roads provide a vital part of a nation’s transportation system with road management under the responsibility of local governments and transportation agencies, which are in need of rapid, repeatable methods that are cost-efficient and easily deployable in a budget-limited environment.   A particular focus is on making the system rapidly deployable for cost-effectively detecting deficiencies in the unpaved road components of the transportation system, including preventing of further damage to the transportation network through timely management of unpaved road assets.