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Becoming Resilient, Episode 4: Resiliency in Pavement Management

Podcast Panelists

Tim Miller, P.E.

Tim Miller, P.E.

Kimley-Horn Pavement Management Specialist

Ben Schmidt, Ph.D.

Ben Schmidt, Ph.D.

Co-Founder and President of RoadBotics

About This Episode

Host Derek Roessler sits down with Tim Miller, P.E., a pavement management specialist at Kimley-Horn, and Ben Schmidt, Ph.D., the Co-Founder and President of RoadBotics, to talk about the topic of resiliency and how it relates to pavement/asset management. In this episode, Tim and Ben discuss how Kimley-Horn and RoadBotics have been teaming up to help public agencies manage their pavement programs in a resilient manner, what trends they’re seeing in the industry related to COVID-19, and what they think the future holds.

About Roadbotics

RoadBotics helps governments better administer their public infrastructure assets by unifying their data onto a single cloud-based platform. The platform combines the power of transparency and the ability to create data-driven strategies into an infrastructure management tool that saves time and money. Learn More on »

Derek Roessler: Hello, and welcome to episode four of our Becoming Resilient podcast series, where we talk to resiliency experts at Kimley-Horn about the trending topic of community readiness and resiliency and how it’s affecting their specific focus areas. I’m your host, Derek Roessler. Today I’m joined by Tim Miller, a pavement management expert from Kimley-Horn and Benjamin Schmidt from RoadBotics. We’ll be discussing the topic of resiliency and how it ties into pavement management. Tim, Ben, thank you both for being here. As a starting point,

Could you give us a quick introduction to RoadBotics and how that ties into our work here at Kimley-Horn?


Ben Schmidt: Ah, for sure. So RoadBotics is a spin out of Carnegie Mellon University. We were started about four years ago and really what we’re all about is we actually combine the sort of power and ubiquity of a smartphone with pavement management technology. So that’s where we kind of came from in that CMU and academic worlds and then spun out. 

The technology is all about we mount up the phone in the windshield as a camera, we go and we collect video data while driving around that network and then we’ve trained a machine learning and data processing pipeline to actually identify things that are relevant in that pavement management space. So the one I guess everyone always knows is potholes, but all the other sort of nuances around patches, sealants, different types of treatments, different types of cracks, and their sort of importance within there.

So that’s really where the sort of technology in our company came from. And then of course we’ve been fortunate enough now to be working with Kimley-Horn for some time and with Tim Miller and his group in particular on actually helping to support the Kimley-Horn pavement management practice.

Tim Miller: Thanks Ben. So Kimley-Horn has been partnering with Ben and his team at RoadBotics on a number of municipal roadway projects and pavement management projects across the country. We’ve really seen a growing interest from municipal agencies in conducting these roadway condition assessments that are

  1. objective
  2. affordable, and
  3. provide data that’s really accessible to the end user.

It’s really hard for agencies to make good decisions without good data. So, in working with Ben and RoadBotics and other partners, we’ve been able to provide that foundation to agencies to really make data-driven decisions. As it relates to pavement management, though, our real goal is to fix the right roads at the right place at the right time. And so, coming up with plans and systems to try and optimize maintenance and repair funding so that we can stretch agency dollars and really help them get the most value out of their infrastructure—that’s our main goal with pavement management. We know that these assets are tremendously valuable. Replacement costs often run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So, when we talk resiliency and planning for the future, the roadways and the roadway systems really are critical assets that are going to allow our communities to remain resilient moving forward.

Derek: Ben, let me start with you again on this one.

How is managing pavement related to resilience?


Ben: I think this is a great question and I think Tim sort of touched on a bunch of it, right? So literally roads, pavement—but you know, you can think about infrastructure more generally—are literally the foundation of society, right? Like you build on this infrastructure and then from there sort of everything else is built on top. And the real challenge there is that if you want resiliency, and I think there’s a lot of, sort of different ways to view that, you know, one of the most common pieces that you need is a protected and well-managed core, right? And I think that just comes back to that infrastructure piece. And as Tim was just indicating, you know, cost is a huge factor here. Infrastructure is both big in its physical size, it’s big in its cost, in its large cost and investment to society, but it’s also big in its time horizons, right? You don’t typically think of infrastructure in the, you know, decades and maybe even like, you know, at the hundred-year mark, right? You’re trying to think about these long-term plans that have long-term implications on that society. And so I think when you get back into sort of pavement and managing all those pieces, if you’re talking about an average sized town in the United States with maybe like a hundred miles of road network, you know, in a good year—which this is not, really—you’re talking about maybe a few miles of roadway that they can actually go and do the full repairs on because of costs and other kinds of constraints. So it just becomes incredibly critical that each one of these municipal governments, if they want to support you know, that resiliency angle and that resiliency approach they really need to be very sort of careful and tactical and strategic about how it is that they go about that that task of managing their pavements, because of all these different considerations, long time horizons, and those sort of costs factors as well.

Tim: I really liked what you said there, Ben. From a management perspective, we really need to know what we have and what condition it’s in if we’re going to effectively manage it. If we don’t know what we have, we don’t know what it will take to fix it. So, we find many agencies often taking a worst-first, wait-until-it-breaks type of strategy that ends up costing a lot more money than doing systematic and routine preventive maintenance work that would prolong and extend the life of that pavement surface. Transitioning from kind of a reactive approach to a proactive approach has been quite challenging, but I think you know, if agencies are able to get their conditions updated so they have a clear picture of what it is that they need to do, they’re in a better position to manage those assets moving forward.

Derek: Ben, I really liked that line you had about this being the foundation of society. I hadn’t thought of it in that way, so that was a really cool perspective to hear. I’ll go back to you then. Ben,

What impacts are you seeing in your industry related to COVID-19?


Ben: I mean, I think there’s so many right now. I mean, this is a very trying time, I think for both businesses, but certainly for us in sort of serving the public. Public finances are really just having a sustained blow right now. And that’s coming in a lot of different forms that we’re sort of seeing, and its, you know, its different effects on geography, on sizes of governments, but, you know, the long and short of it is, effectively, governments by and large get their money through taxes. Those taxes come from, you know, strong economies. We do not have a strong economy right now and so you’re starting to see these sort of lagging effects of government tax revenue down or sort of you know, it could be taxes, but it could also be like parking fees or fees to use different toll roads or whatever it is, whatever the funding mechanism is, we’re generally seeing that slow down. 

The challenge there is going to be, you know, two-fold, right? So a lot of the sort of short-term priorities are sort of getting circumvented to sort of protect those financial things, which makes total sense. There’s a lot of like cost controls. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of like furloughing that we’re seeing within different sizes of governments. And all of those really have an effect on, you know, maybe that’s some of the talent or the budget that was allocated to some of these activities that are sort of being pushed off. And all of this is going to really have a lot of effects and I think we’ll see them over several years—impacts on our on the government sort of institutional knowledge, succession planning within the staff, but then also just the general sort of, you know, this takes money to, to maintain and so we’re going to see a lot of those financial impacts as well. So, I think just across the board in the public sector, it’s a very uncertain time and it’s a very sort of precarious time. I think more than ever, we just, we need to be very careful and cognizant of how we act during this period to make sure that we’re not sort of solving today’s problem, but sacrificing our future.

Tim: Yeah, I would say we’re seeing certainly similar things to what you mentioned Ben with, you know, many projects being delayed or canceled outright, which is ironic because the more that we push out these projects and prolong those fixes, the more expensive they’re going to be in the future. There’s this feedback cycle where we don’t have the money to fix the roads now, but in not fixing them, they become progressively more expensive to fix in the future. And so, you know, in spite of all of these shortcomings and, you know, the public finances being in such a precarious situation, there’s still an ongoing need to monitor and to track so that we can hopefully avoid those more expensive fixes in the future.

Ben: For sure. It’s like the infrastructure interest rate is very, very high.

Derek: That’s good. You mentioned the future;

What do you think the future holds both short term and in the long term?

Ben, I’ll throw it back to you.

Ben: Alright, sure. I do think, you know, in the short term, as Tim was just laying out, you know, I think yes, a lot of people are sort of making these very hard tradeoffs in sort of the timelines. I think we’ll see a lot of sort of short-term maintenance activities and that might not be we’re seeing, but more, I’m hoping we’re seeing. Whereas Tim had mentioned before that sort of worst-first approach, you know, get rid of that, it’s too expensive. Let’s work on preventative maintenance activities where we spend a few dollars now, but it’ll help us in the future. I’m hoping in the short term, that’s what we’re seeing more of. Longer term you know, I think the biggest what I hope is an outcome from this is, is really actually long-term, making longer term plans. I think, you know, we have a lot of the feedback that we get around pavement is that it’s, it’s done in, you know, either year or maybe like 5-year cycles. But you know, pavement lasts a lot longer than that. It’s life cycle is a lot longer than that. So, starting to think about much further into the future and how sort of the actions we’re going to take today will sort of ripple out into that future are going to be more and more critical. So that sort of improvement in planning is really you know, it’s a big thing and it’ll have huge impacts down the line.

And I guess the last one here is that I think of, you know, where do we see post-COVID? Well, first of all, I hope post-COVID is right around the corner. I think everybody hopes that. But you know, again, having really a good—and Tim pointed this out at the beginning—having a good understanding of what the current status of the world is, it’s never going to go out of style and it’s just going to get more and more important to how it is that we make decisions at the government level, as a society. So really being able to capture good data that we can rely upon and then to sort of update that data continuously. That has just got to continue to be not just in pavement, but more broadly across all infrastructure is sort of the critical strategic change that I think we’re just going to keep shifting more and more to which is just better and better data collected more and more frequently that just ultimately helps us make better decisions, do things more cost effectively, and just has enormous benefits all over the map.

Derek: All right, Tim, that means you get the last word.

Tim: Great, thanks guys. So I would say on an ongoing basis, you know, now and into the future, there’s going to be the development of better materials from a construction perspective, better types of asphalt, better types of concrete, better performance of those materials, and really better ways to measure that performance. So from a mechanics perspective or a material perspective, there certainly is, you know, a lot of research and a lot of effort to improving the integrity of the materials themselves. But, you know, with a company like RoadBotics and with what Ben is doing with AI and machine learning, there are going to be a ton of opportunities to continue to grow in this industry. You know, the future is really here now. And so I see a tremendous ongoing integration of technology both in the monitoring of performance, but in the materials themselves as well. So, I think as we look forward to doing things in new ways, to integrating autonomous vehicles and remote sensing and different smart materials, the need to collect this objective data and objectively manage it is just going to be more and more critical. As we help our clients move from, you know, those basic condition surveys to actually coming up with plans and designs to enact those changes within their roadway networks.

Derek: Thanks, Ben and Tim, for being here, and thank you all for joining us for episode four in our Becoming Resilient podcast series. Tune in next time, when we are once again joined by Uday Khambhammettu, along with two other water resource specialists to discuss the topic of resiliency and water resources.

About the Speakers

Tim Miller, P.E.

Tim Miller, P.E.

Tim is a pavement engineer and project manager with more than 14 years of experience. He specializes in pavement data collection and using large data sets to guide clients in making well-timed pavement improvements. His knowledge of data collection processes allows for streamlined integration of pavement condition information into analysis programs to develop effective capital improvement programs. He has completed hundreds of projects involving data integration, performance modeling, condition forecasting, and asset management. Tim has recently led pavement condition assessments in California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Florida for municipal agencies, commercial airports, and the Department of Defense.

Ben Schmidt, Ph.D.

Ben Schmidt, Ph.D.

Ben is the President and Co-Founder of RoadBotics and has been the product development leader at the company since its inception. With a Ph.D. in engineering, Ben has extensive experience in bringing machine learning technologies out of the research lab and successfully into the market. At RoadBotics, Ben works in unison with local governments to increase their infrastructure's resilience. By bringing a data-driven management culture to the teams he leads, he brings the benefits of emerging technology to local communities all over the world.


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