Oregon City is using AI to help fill potholes

Screen shot of CityRover via Oregon City Public Works.

Artificial Intelligence is moving into our lives at a very fast pace. Even here at BikePortland HQ we’ve been playing with some forms of it and pondering how it might help us serve the community better. Yes it’s scary and needs to be regulated; but there are some very cool applications and I’m looking forward to seeing how it impacts the realm of transportation.

This morning I learned that Oregon City, a town of about 37,000 people about a one hour bike ride south of Portland, is using AI to help fill potholes. According to a statement just released by their public works department, they are the only city in Oregon currently taking advantage of the technology.

Here’s more:

Called CityRover, the Public Works department has been testing the AI device to help identify and mark the location of potholes. The device works by continually scanning the road ahead while in a City vehicle, in this case, the street sweeper. It then marks spots it identifies as a pothole and relays the data to a database accessed by the City. Officials say it has been an incredibly helpful tool.

“The street sweeper drives every street in Oregon City several times a year,” said Jayson Thornberg, Street Operations Manager for Oregon City. “With this tool out there every day all day looking for potholes, it helps the City find problem areas quickly.”

The data sent to staff includes precise mapping as well as images showing the issues the machine identified. That information is then reviewed by staff who determine if what the device marked is indeed a pothole, is it within the City’s jurisdiction, and prioritize it into the team’s workflow.

It’s great to see a city taking advantage of AI like this. Portland could obviously use a lot of help with street maintenance these days as their strained work crews and lack of upkeep of protected bike lanes has become a major issue. Of course just identifying the problem spots is only half the battle — too bad AI can’t actually do the pothole filling and the sweeping.

But who knows? Are we really that far away from a Roomba-type vacuuming/sweeping robot that autonomously patrols streets and sweeps up messy bike lanes?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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blumdrew
11 months ago

I’m skeptical that this information is even useful for the city. Surely they could just ask people to report potholes and get the information from the people for free.

blumdrew
11 months ago

Well someone has to run the software, analyze the results, etc. and I just think those resources would be better off filling potholes that already exist. I doubt that Oregon City (or Portland) is sitting on a big “pothole filling” fund just waiting for more opportunities to use it.

Jared)
Jared)
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Fun fact: complaint-based responses tend to help those in well-off neighborhoods more than others, as those people tend to have more time/resources to know how to work the system. Also, those complaints take staff time ($) to process, code, etc.

A city-wide scan of roads makes a lot of sense, equity-wise.

Fred
Fred
11 months ago
Reply to  Jared)

Well, yes. I have often wondered why people have to report problems at all. Are the people responsible for Portland’s transportation infrastructure not looking at it? Do they drive around with their eyes closed? (And yes, I’m sure they drive – they are not cycling or walking.)

Christopher of Portland
Christopher of Portland
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

The way that fixing everything in Portland has to be complaint based is not one of my favorite things. I have no interest in filling out forms or talking to an answering machine all the time. I really like the idea of information being gathered during a process that is already happening. Usually anything “AI” based makes me groan but this is kinda cool.

Matt S.
Matt S.
11 months ago

Pdxreporter takes five minutes to report a pothole. I’ve had success using it.

Christopher of Portland
Christopher of Portland
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt S.

That’s nice. I’m aware of PDX Reporter. Have fun spending your unpaid five minutes filling out a pothole report. I don’t like doing that and welcome a way to make it happen without my input.

Matt S.
Matt S.
11 months ago

It’s like when everyone complains about the broken down car on the block but no one reports it… No one likes to take the time to report. However, seems like you’ll take the time to write in the comments about not liking to report, which is odd, because I imagine the comment took longer than it would to report. A lot gets solved when the city gets help from its citizens, in a form other than paying taxes.

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dwk
dwk
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

No one bikes around and documents where potholes are and calls them in.
I expect the city that I pay taxes to, to do that for me.
Why would anyone complain about this?
This is exactly what I like to pay taxes for, something that actually fixes things.

Fred
Fred
11 months ago

That’s a great story by Scott. It’s telling that the city is apparently no better at fixing potholes in 2023 than it was in 2019 when Scott wrote the story.

idlebytes
idlebytes
11 months ago

The street sweeper drives every street in Oregon City several times a year

So even if we did this here we would still miss tons of potholes because PBOT doesn’t sweep every road. When they do mine they don’t tell anyone so all the parked cars means the sweeping is pretty ineffective. On their street sweeping site they say

If you know when your neighborhood is due for street sweeping

Seriously if? There’s no way to sign up for an email notice and the posted schedule is only for a few days so the only way to know is to check it every few days. That’s completely ridiculous. Also they won’t do unimproved roads it seems as the street right in front of my house isn’t even on a route despite the fact that PBOT is responsible for maintaining it.

Speaking of maintenance it’s been over 30 days and Mingus Mapps seems to have not kept his promise about filling the potholes I reported.

James F Kent
James F Kent
11 months ago

If we want to discourage driving, we should be doing the opposite of fixing roads: letting them deteriorate to the point of being unusable.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
11 months ago
Reply to  James F Kent

When I used to bike, I didn’t want to ride through potholes either. Much more damage to my fragile bike wheel than vs. a car wheel.

Joe Adamski
Joe Adamski
11 months ago
Reply to  James F Kent

Understand OCs concerns about potholes is based on concerns of drivers, not cyclists. OC has minimal ‘infrastructure’ for cyclists,nor pedestrians. Nor would I hold my breathe it changing anytime soon.

J_R
J_R
11 months ago

Congratulations to Oregon City for using the available tools to help them.

The City of Portland would need to set up a task force, conduct stakeholder interviews, issue an RFP, start an equity and inclusion evaluation, travel to faraway places before they could think about doing something this useful.

X
X
11 months ago

Welp. Portland has a human intelligence channel to receive notice of potholes and such. It doesn’t go to the ‘top’, unfortunately.

https://bikeportland.org/2019/05/22/injuries-mount-as-portland-fails-to-fix-dangerous-potholes-300152

I’m personally skeptical of PDX reporter. For one thing, it’s a real pain to use from my phone. If you’d like to talk to a live human maintenance dispatcher, you can call 503-823-1700, go through a one-step menu and you’re on.

They like to send you to PDX reporter because it’s possible to send a photo. Whatever. Be prepared with the nearest address, cross street, traffic direction and any dimensions that matter.

If you see a significant amount of water coming out of the street call 503-823-4874. That’s the Water Bureau and they do want to know.

Matt S.
Matt S.
11 months ago
Reply to  X

I created an icon on my phone for pdxreporter. My password is stored for me. Takes seconds to login. Reporting is easy and you can geotag and also submit photos. I often take photos and then edit them: add arrows or circles to emphasize what I’m photographing. For example, I walked through a homeless camp in my neighborhood and took photos of drug use. I then circled where the paraphernalia was in the photos and submitted.

Fred
Fred
11 months ago

Are we really that far away from a Roomba-type vacuuming/sweeping robot that autonomously patrols streets and sweeps up messy bike lanes?

In the City of Portland – the area served by PBOT – it really does feel as though we are VERY FAR from having any kind of autonomous system. PBOT can’t even manage the very simple systems it has, like the problem reporter (pdxroads etc).

I’m pinning my hopes on the new city gov’t structure in 2025. Maybe competent and professional leadership will be able to steer PBOT to new technologies like this one.