Potholes have to rank as one of the most hated and dreaded things motorists face. The booby traps are destructive, and causes paranoia, especially in the dark. But we’re not alone.
This winter is expected to set records as the worst ever in some parts of Europe, with freezing temperatures, ice and snow likely lead to more cracked and potholed roads. Bad road surfaces contribute to more than a third of all accidents every year in Europe. In the UK, a pothole damage claim is received by local authorities every 17 minutes – with claims averaging £432. In 2011, 20 million potholes were reported in Europe but only half were filled – at an estimated cost of more than €1.2 billion.
While they’re luckier in the sense that repair bills can be sent to local authorities, potholes are still best avoided. Ford is working on something that will help motorists avoid potholes and the misery they bring.
The Blue Oval is currently researching a crowd-sourced virtual pothole map, with testing due to start later this year. The map would show drivers, in real-time, on in-car displays, where potholes are, how bad they are, and suggest alternative routes.
“A virtual pothole map could highlight a new pothole the minute it appears and almost immediately warn other drivers that there is a hazard ahead. Our cars already feature sensors that detect potholes and now we are looking at taking this to the next level,” said Uwe Hoffmann, research engineer, Advanced Chassis Control Technologies, Ford of Europe.
Larger Ford models such as the Galaxy, Mondeo and S-Max already use on-board sensors for Continuously Controlled Damping with Pothole Mitigation, which detects potholes using sensors and adjusts the suspension to help reduce any potential damage.
Engineers are now researching the use of cameras and embedded modems at the Ford Research and Innovation Centre in Germany. Together, these technologies would gather detailed information on the potholes and beam it to the cloud – where it can be made available to other drivers – in real time. Further research is also exploring the use of an active suspension system designed to massively reduce the severity of bumps and rough road surfaces.
Ford already tests new cars on a nightmare 2 km road at its Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium, using replicas of some of the world’s worst potholes.