So, you just hit a pothole. Or you assume that you’re going to do so at least once of twice when they proliferate after the spring thaw.

The folks who work for your municipality would prefer to ensure nothing like that happens, but finding problem spots before your car does can be a challenge.

“In a lot of communities, the process of surveying roads is a guy in a truck,” Bethel Park resident Sam Stephan said, or maybe it’s a matter of elected officials boarding a bus.

The company for which Stephan is a marketing associate has come up with way to make the process a whole lot easier. And as she’s researched the hows and whys of North Side-based RoadBotics Inc.’s products and services, it’s given her a whole new understanding of what local government entities go through to keep their infrastructures in suitable shape.

“The roads have become something I notice more now,” she said. “You can kind of take them for granted.”

She especially notices them in her hometown, where Bethel Park’s municipal engineers used to spend two weeks each year visually inspecting the 118-mile road network. Today, thanks to technology offered by RoadBotics, the process has been whittled down to a single day.

The key is the ability to use smartphones equipped with software to collect data about pavement condition, to be analyzed for surface distresses and assigned relative conditional ratings for every 10 feet of the road.

“They can take video logs of any asset in their community, and then use it for any purpose they can think up,” Stephan said.

Neighboring Peters Township, for example, contracted in 2019 with RoadBotics to perform a pavement condition assessment of the entire local road system. The final work product was delivered in the form of a web-based platform that can be accessed by township staff to view and analyze the results of the scan.

Spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2016, RoadBotics now has a customer base of more than 250 governmental units in 14 countries. Stephan joined the team in 2020, eager to build on her social media marketing background to spread the word about her new employer.

To help do so, she immediately embarked on a better understanding of the functions of local government in general, and its maintenance of roads in particular.

“My last government-oriented course was in high school. That was nine weeks of my life that was in one ear and out the other,” she said. “So I had a lot of catching up to do.”

Focusing on Bethel Park, Stephan provided herself with a thorough education about everything from the administrative structure of the municipality, including the role of the public works department, to how taxes are collected and where the money goes.

She then was inspired to compose an essay about what she had learned: “Changing lanes: RoadBotics’ marketer investigates hometown roads.” The content is likely to make any civics teacher happy, not to mention the folks who lead local government.

“I now carefully consider the lofty goals and enormous sums of money thrown around in impressive national bills,” she writes. “I understand it is the daily hustle and bustle of our communities that have a more direct connection to our lives.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, I’ve been spending a lot more time in my neighborhood and exploring closer to home. I’ve come to appreciate even more the accessibility and resources in my community.

“I plan to continue learning about my local government, and I encourage you to do the same.”

For more information about Robotics Inc. and to read Sam Stephan’s essay in its entirety, visit www.roadbotics.com.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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