Potholes are nobody's friend. They are especially unpopular with municipal road authorities, who must spend millions yearly in traffic-snarling road repairs. But a new automated pothole-patching machine could let a single worker do the work of an entire road crew in just two minutes.
Potholes are formed by water intrusion, temperature variations, and the stresses of cars and trucks constantly running over a road. Every road deteriorates. However, dense urban areas with large seasonal weather changes are most severely afflicted. New York City, for example, had to patch 418,000 potholes city-wide last year and another 164,000 so far in 2012.
Traditionally, road crews employ a six step method to patch a hole. First, they set traffic cones—typically at least two lanes wider than necessary, depending on how close to rush hour it is. Next, they mark the area to be repaired. They remove the damaged pavement—cutting out cracked sections, if necessary—and then apply an adhesive oil to the sides and back of the hole so it can bond with the hot-mix asphalt (HMA) that's being shoveled in. The HMA is then filled in four inches at a time and packed down between layers. Finally the patch is sealed around its edges to prevent future water intrusion. This process may take anywhere from a half hour to four months to complete.
It seems like an awful lot of effort and man-hours just to shove rocks in a hole and tamp them down. That's why the Python 5000 is significant—it can perform all of those tasks with a crew of one and just a single-lane closure. The Python 5000 can accept five tons of either cold- or hot-mix asphalt which is ingeniously warmed using engine exhaust.
At the work site, the driver aligns the pothole with the front of the vehicle, then uses an air nozzle attached to the articulated working arm to blast loose stone, water, and other debris from the hole. The operator can then spray on tack oil before pouring the asphalt mix. The work arm compresses the mound before moving on to the next hole. The entire process takes roughly two minutes and the operator never even has to step out of the vehicle.
New York City is presently testing the Python 5000 for use in the five boroughs. Crews will use the machines for several weeks and then monitor the repairs to ensure they are as good, if not better than, what human crews can do.
"Keeping our streets in good condition is essential to our economy and to our quality of life – and that's why we are always looking for ways to do the job more efficiently," said Mayor Bloomberg in a press statement. "We're debuting new technology to repair city streets faster, while closing less lanes to traffic. We also took advantage of the mild winter this year and resurfaced additional key corridors to get a jump on repaving season, and we are on track to repave 1,000 lane miles of city streets this year."
If it works in NYC, it will hopefully be picked up by other cities across the country. Please, Python, come to San Francisco, where the streets are more pothole than road. [Mike Bloomberg, Python, US Roads, Arlington, VA DOT]