On the Road with IoT in Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love embraces technology to improve city roadways and help citizens as part of its Pitch & Pilot program. A series of partnerships with small tech companies and integrators push Philadelphia closer to its smart city goals.


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Image credit: GoodRoads

Philadelphia is taking IoT to the streets—literally. The city has teamed with GoodRoads, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to find a more accurate and effective way to assess pavement conditions across Philadelphia.

In cities across the country, assessing city streets is a time-consuming process. City workers have to inspect every mile of road, take photos, and rate each stretch on a numerical scale. The rating determines which roads will receive repair work. Six months or more can pass between the time of inspection to road work. It’s slow and expensive.

GoodRoads was founded to address that issue directly. The company has developed a small device that fits on a vehicle’s front bumper or hood. It can be installed on a private car or a city-operated fleet vehicle, such as a street sweeper. As the vehicle traverses the city, the GoodRoads device goes to work.

Using artificial intelligence, geo-location technology, sensors, and cameras, the device determines the quality of the pavement. It evaluates the severity of potholes, road hazards, cracks, and other flaws in the road. It captures images of the street, and using the integrated geo-location technology, notes the location of the failure. The data is sent to the cloud, where city engineers can view it using the GoodRoads app.

Philadelphia Fleet-dom

In Philadelphia, the GoodRoads boxes are mounted on the front of the city fleet. As staff does other work throughout the city, the devices analyze the state of the roads and can identify places in need of spot repairs or full repairs, says Emily Yates, smart city director for the City of Philadelphia. “With AI and machine learning, it prioritizes what roads need to be repaired each year,” she says.

It also maps the surrounding environment, including street signs, manholes, and parking areas to help establish the exact location of the fault. The Philadelphia fleet covers 1,200 miles in a short time, Yates says. “That would normally take many months.”

The images, inspection data, and ratings are analyzed, and a visual representation is displayed on the GoodRoads dashboard in a map-based report. City managers can view the entire map, hone in on specific neighborhoods, or display streets that meet a certain threshold, for example, those most in need of repair. That takes the guesswork out of where to spend city funds. “We can make data-informed and data-driven decisions,” Yates says.

Dashboard showing road information

Image credit: GoodRoads

GoodRoads aims to connect civil engineers across the country to share best practices. The company is operating pilot programs in several cities in North Carolina. It uses a software-as-a-service model, so cities pay rental fees for each device.

Pitch & Pilot

The partnership is part of Philly’s SmartCityPHL Pitch & Pilot program, which encourages innovative companies and academic institutions to develop real-world, smart city solutions. Launched after the pandemic hit, Philadelphia’s initial goal was to reduce waste in the city. To simplify the process, the city shifted from using RFPs to using miscellaneous purchase orders.

It has paid off. GoodRoads was tapped to pilot a pavement assessment tool, but other Pitch & Pilot programs are underway as well.

The first was in response to the city’s goal of achieving zero-waste by 2035. Called Retrievr, it is an on-demand clothing and waste recycle/reuse program. Citizens leave their clothes and electronics on their doorstep and use an app to enter their address and to schedule a contactless pick up. The items are donated to people in need.

“It’s been highly successful,” Yates says. “We’ve collected 27,000 pounds from 468 households.”

A similar program collects old computers, which are refurbished and distributed free to people in need, helping to close the digital divide in Philadelphia. A partnership with State of Place uses machine learning to assess environmental spaces and factors that could influence livability, walkability, and the potential spread of COVID-19.

Philadelphia’s search for technology solutions that would solve city problems led to the Pitch & Pilot program, and it benefits both sides, Yates says: “They want an R&D partner. We want to be a living lab.”


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