Developments to Watch
CALIFORNIA ROBOTS MAY SOON HIT THE ROAD
Driving in California could soon mean seeing signs that say "Robots Working." The California Transportation Dept. and the University of California at Davis are developing robotic road-maintenance systems that may save money, reduce congestion, and prevent worker accidents. The first robo-repairer, which should be road-ready next year, uses lasers to spot cracks between the pavement and the shoulder. It then dispenses the right amount of patch material. A single worker can operate it.
Next year, Caltrans plans to test an unmanned machine, based on technology developed for the military, that would combine a hovercraft and a video camera to inspect bridges. Other highway robots on the drawing boards would restripe traffic lanes and identify hazardous materials from a safe distance. Caltrans project manager Thomas West says such machines may be critical to keeping roads in good enough shape to handle ever-increasing traffic.EDITED BY WILLIAM D. MARBACH