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Want to Finally Conquer That Pothole? Hit It With a Laser

• Damon Lavrinc via WIRED.com
 

Lasers! They’re not just for shooting down drones or annoying your cat. They’re coming to your car this year, transforming pock-marked pavement into smooth ribbons of asphalt.

The same tech that keeps Google’s self-driving cars from crashing into things is now being applied to production vehicles. But it has nothing to do with letting the robot drive – it’s all in the quest to adapt your car’s ride to the road, and keep things serene on the inside.

Similar to the LIDAR technology (that big spinning thing on the roof) that Google employs to map the surroundings of its autonomous vehicles, this latest breed of laser scanning is finally getting smaller and cheaper. And the potential applications are more expansive than you’d expect.

For years, road workers have used a larger, more complex version of the laser technology to survey roads and identify patches of rough pavement. Driving slowly along the road, the system would scan the surface hundreds of times a second, bouncing lasers off the pavement and recording the amount of time it took for the light to return. Variations from the average time indicate a bump or pothole.

Last month, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques released a new version of the Pavement Profile Scanner (PPS) that’s as small as a shoebox, can read the surface of the road at 62 mph and is accurate to between 0.15 and 0.3 millimeters. In prototype form, the new PPS does it all at a frequency of 1 MHz, meaning it can capture one million measurements a second. And when it reaches production, they’ll crank it up to 2 MHz, doubling the amount of measurements it can read.

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