Google to Map the Quality of Roads?

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We’ve all read about Google working to build self-driving cars, and I’ve written about Google building Google Maps programs to help people navigate to different places.

A Google patent application published this week takes a closer look at computers in cars, and the many sensors that are connected to those, and it discusses how automotive computing systems that include such things as:

…network based applications including navigation, voice search, media streaming capabilities, and the like.

An Overview of Google's Patent Process to monitor Road Quality
An Overview of Google’s Patent Process to monitor Road Quality

The patent mentions On board diagnostics (OBD) standards in the automotive industry were made became available with engine computer systems that showed up in the 1980s.

The patent discusses sensor systems within cars, and how those are monitored. It tells us that one of the failings of such a system, is that the information collected by vehicles isn’t set up to allow for that data to be aggregated across more than one vehicle.

There are diagnostic sensors that could be used to collect data quality information, but in a way that would make collecting data about multiple routes difficult, and the patent tells us it, “would require such substantial resources as to be impractical.”

The patent's images infer a computer system collecting data about road quality and satellite-determined locations.
The patent’s images infer a computer system collecting data about road quality and satellite-determined locations.

The Google patent describes an approach for “monitoring vehicle sensors to determine and report road quality using a communication device including an electronic circuit are provided.” This device might be built to a vehicle’s radio system and might use a GPS-enabled system that worked with mapping software.

The monitoring of road quality could be done by the use of sensors, such as a sensor added to the shock absorbers of cars, or with a “vertical displacement sensor present in the head unit”. Other sensors might also be used, and may be monitored and then analyzed to judge the quality of roads by vertical vibration. This information could then be used to help produce road quality reports and to “improve driving directions in mapping software.”

A fairly complex networked system with different sensor devices could be involved in this system.
A fairly complex networked system with different sensor devices could be involved in this system.

The patent is:

Systems and Methods for Moitoring and Reporting Road Quality
Invented by Dean K. Jackson
Assigned to: Google
US Patent Application 20150183440
Published July 2, 2015
Filed: January 31, 2012

Abstract

Systems and methods for monitoring vehicle sensors to determine and report road quality using a communication device are disclosed.

The communication device determines the vehicle’s location on a road, such as by use of a GPS-enabled head unit or similar device and appropriate mapping software. Monitoring road quality may be achieved by adding a sensor to the shocks, by use of a vertical displacement sensor present on the head unit, and the like. Various combinations of sensors may be employed. A horizontal displacement sensor may be used. The signals from the sensors are monitored by the head unit and analyzed to judge the quality of the road by the amount of vertical vibration that is encountered.

This data, together with the vehicle’s location, may be transmitted through a mobile network to a central server for distribution in road quality reports and to improve driving directions in mapping software.

Take-Aways

Some Google patents fall completely outside of the scope of search, but give us some hints at capabilities that they might have, and describe things that they might do. I’ve been seeing a lot of Google patent filings about Google Maps, and automobiles, and will be writing about some of those in days to come.

The patent provides more details about On-Board Computer Systems More Complicated GPS systems, and how such information might be built into mapping software.

The types of sensors built into such a system can include:

  • Vertical displacement sensors
  • Motion sensors
  • An accelerometer
  • An altimeter
  • A velocity sensor and/or
  • gyroscope

That seems not too different from the list of sensors that I’ve seen described as being built into smartphones.

Google is collecting a lot of information about roadways, and it’s not clear that they are doing this only to make roads safer for their self-driving cars.

There have been a lot of patents involving Google Mapping software; the purpose of this one, to monitor and track the quality of roads was a little surprising.

This flowchart from the patent describes the process of monitoring road quality.
This flowchart from the patent describes the process of monitoring road quality.

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22 thoughts on “Google to Map the Quality of Roads?”

  1. As usual Bill, you have come up with another gem. This tool, if created, would help authorities to judge the quality of roods in an automated manner and save lots of their time and money.

  2. Thanks admin I think in part the simplicity of this patent is what makes it work well.
    I agree with Bill Slawski

  3. Think how much more accurate timings could be on Google Map journeys, particularly in rural areas. I think this has serious potential.

  4. Hi,

    google might get disappointed by looking our roads in India.

    Anyways great article

  5. Hi Joseph,

    I liked the simplicity of this patent, too. There seems to be some potential for Google to automate this, and do some good.

  6. Hi Paddy,

    It’s unlikely that government will come up with a solution to this problem, so it’s good that Google has found one that appears to be workable.

  7. It is an Wonderful and informative article. Thanks for Sharing. But in India the roads will create problem for Google for finding pattern i think.

  8. Hi Bill,

    Really Nice and up-to date information. I think that this feature will be very useful..

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing..

    Regards: Duryab Aziz

  9. Hi Jessica,

    It’s interesting seeing Google patenting an effort like this that could be really positive. I hope they go through with it.

  10. He likes the simplicity of this patent, too. There seems to be some potential for Google to automate this, and do good.

  11. Hi Bill, I like the way Google are pushing their technology out of the search arena. Something like this could be used by local governments or road maintenance crews to monitor state of roads and be proactive in repairing them.

  12. A highly informative article. Technology is actually developing rapidly and applying it for the betterment of lifestyle is certainly what the people needs. Google has always been in the forefront for new innovations and they are doing their job in the best way.

  13. Hi Adam,

    Thank you. It’s interesting seeing what Google comes up with as it develops things like knowledge panels; though we need to keep an eye on what Microsoft and Yahoo are doing, too. Since both of them are developing their own approaches.

  14. Hi Adam,

    It is interesting to see a patent from Google that isn’t aimed at improving search, but tackles issues like helping make our transportation system better.

  15. Hi Bill,

    the set of sensors in most cars fits best for this application: the electronic stability control includes several accelerometers. It is proven that the IRI (international roughness index) can be calculated based on these sensor signals. The procedure is available for everybody. The only issue that needs to be solved is to identify the transfer matrix from sensor position for a “standardized” sensor position in a “golden car”.

    Best regards,
    Philipp

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