Never doubt the power of the “Hey, what if we … ?” question.
RoadBotics is a new company that combines smartphone and artificial intelligence technology to detect and record the condition of concrete and asphalt surfaces. But the technology began as research on self-driving cars.
It wasn’t until Christoph Mertz and his team at Carnegie Mellon University started asking, “Hey, what if we … ?” that the research veered down a tangent toward civil engineering innovation.
“They said, ‘Why couldn’t we take the technology that we’re using to move these vehicles around in the real world and use it to assess the infrastructure these vehicles are using?’ said Mark DeSantis, RoadBotics CEO.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have [autonomous vehicles] everywhere. And those AVs are going to be able to help maintain the infrastructure because the sensor suites they use are going to provide the best data about the status of the road. We just got ahead of all that.”
Now used by 41 cities to monitor roads, RoadBotics is a classic innovation success story, one of several brilliant ideas showcased by the 2018 ASCE Innovation Contest.
ASCE hosted the various category winners this week for a two-day Innovation Contest celebration event at the Society headquarters in Reston, VA.
“It helps our membership learn more about innovation, and it helps these innovators get connected to people who might use their innovations,” said Marc Hoit, Ph.D., F.SEI, F.ASCE, Innovation Contest chair and vice chancellor for information technology at North Carolina State University.
“This year I think there are some go-to-market products in the contest. I think people are starting to realize this is an opportunity for new businesses, new startups, new ideas.”
ASCE’s Industry Leaders Council developed the Innovation Contest as part of the Society’s Grand Challenge to significantly enhance the life-cycle performance of infrastructure by 2025. Now in its third year, the Innovation Contest seeks out innovative ideas and gives them a platform for broader exposure.
The celebration event brings the contest winners together to trade notes and share ideas. They each presented and explained their innovations in front of a group of industry leaders to get feedback, direction, and support. The program also included a panel discussion among CEOs, speed-networking interviews, a screening of Dream Big: Engineering Our World, and a presentation on attracting investors.
Alaaeldin Elozeiri, part of the team that won Best Student Innovation for its Sustainable Rainbow submittal, came all the way from Cairo, Egypt.
“Coming here is a big milestone for me,” Elozeiri said. “I see the challenges of the people in the rural areas in Egypt. So it’s very important that I use what I learn at the university to change the quality of life for the people around me.”
The celebration event, of course, comes and goes. The key thing is that the contest winners continue to push their innovative ideas into the market, and that ASCE inspires a culture of innovation across the entire civil engineering industry.
“I think it’s going to be a golden era of civil engineering over the next decade, simply because of these technologies,” DeSantis said.
2018 ASCE Innovation Contest Winners
• Greatest Impact on Delivering the ASCE Grand Challenge – RoadBotics, submitted by Jeff Barker, Mark DeSantis, Miguel Dickson, Christoph Mertz, and Benjamin Schmidt
• Best New Concept – A Bridge to More Resilient Infrastructure, submitted by Allen Dusault, Nima Goudarzi, and Elham Ramyar
• Best Student Innovation – Sustainable Rainbow, submitted by Zewail City University of Science and Technology (Giza, Egypt) students Mohamed Elozeiri Alaaeldin Ashraf and Mohamed Ramadan
Innovative Business Models
• Most Feasible –Custom Fit for the Solar PV Industry, submitted by Steve Gartner and Paul Sehrt
• Most Innovative – Sustainable Rainbow
• Best Value – ORA Technologies’ Biogenic Coastal Solutions, Let the Oysters Do the Work, submitted by Robert L. Beine, Matthew D. Campbell, Steven G. Hall, and Tyler R. Ortego
The Internet of Things
• Most Feasible – RoadBotics
• Most Innovative – RoadBotics
• Best Value – RoadBotics
• Most Feasible – TieTran Cycleloop, submitted by Chetan Rangaswamy Kulumepalya, Suresh Babu Salla, and Sujith Surendran.
• Most Innovative – Infrastructure to Infinity – And Beyond, submitted by Michael J. Roberts
• Best Value – A Bridge to More Resilient Infrastructure
• Most Feasible – RoadBotics
• Most Innovative – Utilization of Concrete to Generate Electricity, submitted by Mohamed Abdel-Raheem, Jennifer Cortina, Hector Flores, and Ofsman Quintana
• Best Value – Hydrokinetic Unidirectional Tidal Generator, submitted by Zachary A. Loeb