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June 28, 2019 | Spotlight

Institute assists PSO Faculty Fellow on innovative road monitoring system

UGA engineering professor Sonny Kim, shown working with a group of students, developed an innovative way to assess road maintenance needs using ground-penetrating radar as a PSO Faculty Fellow working with the Institute of Government.

Writer: Aaron Cox

Predicting problems with roads and bridges could help local and state governments make needed improvements before accidents occur. That could get easier using technology being developed by a UGA engineering professor working in partnership with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

As a Public Service and Outreach (PSO) Faculty Fellow, Associate Professor Sung-Hee “Sonny” Kim with UGA’s College of Engineering is using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to look beneath the surface of roadways in a non-invasive manner and assess their condition beyond what the naked eye can see. Once the radar unit has scanned the road, Kim uses that information to predict how the roadways will deteriorate in the future and when government agencies should plan on repairing them.

“This is a really great tool for local and state governments,” said Kim. “They can use that information to predict how much budget should be spent this year or next year or upcoming years depending on the road conditions. They can manage the funds to maintain the roadway systems.

“Other technologies just look at the pavement surface condition only, but our technology uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict future conditions based on continuously monitored GPR test data.”

Using PSO Faculty Fellowship funding provided to his academic department, Kim was able to upgrade his radar equipment and install it on a truck, effectively increasing the speed at which he can measure roadways from 3 MPH to 65 MPH. He and his team then spent the past year monitoring 10 different one-mile sections of highway in Athens-Clarke County.

Through his collaboration with the Institute of Government, Kim was able to input his roadway data into the Institute’s geographic information system (GIS), creating an interactive map that allows users to select a section of road and see its current and predicted future state.

Institute staff loaned Kim a GPS receiver to supplement a system designed to capture video and location data simultaneously, according to David Holcomb, production staff manager with the Institute’s Information Technology Outreach Services (ITOS) unit. The Institute also provided technical assistance on visualizing the location data in GIS.

Kim has already been in contact with the Georgia Department of Transportation, which wants him to use his research to begin scanning major highway systems in the state. If successful, Kim hopes to eventually develop a map for the entire state.

“What Sonny’s technology and expertise allows is for brilliant imaging of those assets and to be able to use that information in a way that transportation departments can then determine where they need to invest their money,” said Stephan Durham, assistant dean for student success and outreach with the College of Engineering.

The PSO Faculty Fellowship program provides departmental support for tenure-track and tenured professors to immerse themselves in the work of a public service and outreach unit for one semester. The experience offers opportunities for fellows to enhance their academic courses, conduct research and apply their expertise to outreach initiatives.