Predicting potholes, before the “ears are sticking out” – Lessons from New York

A common East African expat joke goes, “if you see ears sticking out of a hole, it’s giraffe, not a dog”. African residents, know all too well about potholed roads. Local municipalities often suffer from limited funds and poor road maintenance management. Even when resources are available , it is difficult to determine which roads are most in need of repair. Accept of course, for the most obvious potholes, “with ears sticking out”.

In New York, Argo Labs has invented a Street Quality Identification Device, or “SQUID,”to scan and map road surfaces, bumps and holes. The device is an accelerometer-camera combo, and is mounted on the back of municipality vehicle. It takes a picture every second and the equipment costs around $300.

In the past, roads repairs received priority based on “whoever shouted the loudest”, said  Varun Adibhatla, Argo’s co-founder in a Fast Company article. However, now decisions can be made with data and in a more equitable manner.Street surveys are done quickly and a single vehicle can record up to 400 miles (640 km) of road in a week. It also allows the municipality to predict street defects before it happens.

In South Africa, the Find & Fix app,  empowers road users to report road related defects such as potholes, missing manholes and stormwater drainage issues. The app is promoted under the “snap it; send it; we’ll fix it”, slogan. The Johannesburg Road Agency (JRA) developed the app in 2014, and the app has also been used to report other service delivery issues.