COVINGTON, Ky. -- In an era of crumbling infrastructure that no one seems to want to pay to repair, James Bridgers has a business idea that might get some traction:
Use video cameras mounted on cars to accumulate data on potholes, cracks, patches and everything else on the road that needs maintenance. Then, use the data to plan maintenance better and reduce costs.
The Dayton native calls it Road-Aid, and it’s one of eight new businesses scheduled to graduate from Covington’s UpTech business accelerator in February.
Bridgers hit upon the idea in 2011, while working as an image scientist for the Department of Defense at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he’s worked since 2006. He was looking for a problem to which he could apply remote sensing technology, he said, and road maintenance seemed a good fit.
As it is, cities gather information about potholes in an unsystematic way, most often through citizen complaints that aren’t always precise -- it’s hard to give an exact location of a problem when you’re speeding down the interstate at 70 mph.
How big is the market?
Really, really big. According to Congress’ National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, the annual investment required by all governments to simply maintain the nation’s highways, roads and bridges is $185 billion for the next 50 years. The annual investment now is about $68 billion.
Aside from helping cities cut the cost of road repairs, Bridgers said, it would also help them get federal funding for road projects.
He also envisions as customers the motorists who use those highways and want to avoid potholes. AAA reports that pothole damage costs U.S. motorists about $3 billion a year.
Potential partners for an app would include automakers and repair shops, he said, possibly even Google Maps. “As long as we have the data, somebody is going to want that data,” he added.
Any customers yet?
No, but talks with some local governments have been promising. Bridgers has been driving the roads of Loveland and the Dayton suburb of Fairborn to gather data about road conditions there.
Ideally, Road-Aid would partner with organizations that regularly travel the roads -- say, the U.S. Postal Service -- to gather road data on a weekly basis. It costs less than $500 to equip a vehicle with the needed technology, he said.
How about investors?
UpTech invests up to $50,000 in the companies that go through its accelerator. Other than that, Bridgers and his two partners, whom he declined to name because they both have other jobs, have bootstrapped the company. He personally has invested more than $15,000, he said.
Continue to develop partnerships with cities and with other businesses. “Technically, there is no challenge. These are capabilities that have existed for years,” Bridgers said. “The only challenge is developing the relationships that will enable it to happen.”