High-tech help for highway substructure inspectors

​New remote-control car program driven by innovation

Release Date: October 18, 2019

(Green Bay) Underground investigations of any kind pose unique challenges to highway engineers, such as low light, cramped spaces, and unexpected obstacles. This is especially true when looking at culvert conditions under the roads and highways motorists drive on daily.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Northeast Region in Green Bay is field testing Bluetooth-enabled, camera-equipped, remote-controlled cars to help inspect the culverts underneath our highways. The Culvert Inspection Vehicle (CIV) can get to places inspectors typically can’t get to on their own.

There are 62,000 culverts throughout the state highway system and roughly 8,000 culverts in WisDOT’s 11-county, northeast region. Culverts function beneath the surface to manage storm water and to help keep roadways dry and passable. While some are so large a grown adult could walk through, many are much smaller, or could be flooded or filled with debris, making a physical examination much more challenging and at times unsafe.

Poor drainage from failing culverts can lead to early pavement distresses, causing problems for drivers and even structural failure of a road. Culverts issues such pitting, cracking, corrosion, misalignment, and joint separation, just to name a few, can also lead to land erosion, property flooding and costly repairs. It is imperative to assess culvert conditions for the safety and efficiency of our state highway system. Catching issues early can mean significant cost savings through less costly maintenance or repairs.    

That’s where the CIV presented an opportunity. By mounting a Bluetooth-connected camera on the body of the vehicle, inspectors are developing a tool that can get them where they couldn’t get before, and seeing the issues lurking beneath the surface that they may not have seen before.

“WisDOT staff are problem-solvers, and ideas like this can create incredible safety benefits throughout the state,” said WisDOT Secretary-Designee Craig Thompson. “Having a tool that can probe areas we couldn’t probe before means we will have a more comprehensive understanding of our infrastructure and its needs to ensure we’re delivering quality, cost-effective solutions for the traveling public.” 

The remote-controlled car field tests are currently taking place in WisDOT’s Northeast Region. The inspections began in May of this year and was born out of an idea from the Region’s Innovation Team in late 2018. The idea builds into a broader statewide program called the Culvert Asset Management Program (CAMP) which was developed by WisDOT engineers using mobile and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies.

With CAMP, inspectors have essentially doubled productivity by logging data in real time from the field. The inspection and data-logging methods in CAMP replace the more time-consuming traditional process of taking notes during inspections and then entering notes using the office computer, creating lag time and consistency issues amid individual inspectors.

Images captured on the remote-controlled cars can feed into CAMP’s data stream to further enhance benefit in the program by giving an up-close look at culvert condition. The data helps WisDOT make more timely decisions on culvert maintenance and repair needs.

WisDOT’s new innovative culvert inspection and data-management process came from WisDOT staff ideas that were further developed through WisDOT’s nationally recognized innovation program. Program information can be found on our innovation program wepage.

For more information, contact:

Mark Kantola, Regional Communications Manager
Mark.Kantola@dot.wi.gov, (920) 492-4153