Road robot measures early signs of success for industry research hub

Team members Kee Tee, Michael Stanley, Dr Chao Chen and Logan Vesty
L-R: Team members Kee Tee, Michael Stanley, Dr Chao Chen and Logan Vesty

A robot-like machine for assessing road surfaces is one of the first projects to come out of the newly established ARC Research Hub for Nanoscience-based  Construction Materials Manufacturing.

A team from Monash University’s Faculty of Engineering developed the machine in just three months when they received a request from Austroads and the Australian Road Research Board.

It was a complex project, which involved designing, programming, and assembling a robot for use in assessing rutting of road pavement materials at the research board’s full scale test laboratory.

Dr Richard Yeo, Program Manager Assets with Austroads and Monash Engineering alumnus, was pleased with what the team produced. “We were really keen to work with Monash and the team have delivered a high quality product which met our timelines,” Dr Yeo said.

He was enthusiastic about the expertise of the engineering faculty at Monash, and noted that his organisation is eager to encourage knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer between industry and the university. “We were really keen to work with Monash. The learning opportunities available to students working on this project are really valuable,” he said.

In terms of accuracy and speed, the new machine is a vast improvement on previous surface measurement tools employed by the Australian Road Research Board. As recently as 10 years ago, Dr Yeo could be found operating a manual scanner that he had to wind backwards and forwards by hand, while the next iteration included a robot that relied on rails 17 metres long being laid perfectly parallel.

Dr Chao Chen led the research team that developed the new robot.

“The major challenge in developing this machine is maintaining high precision,” Dr Chen said, describing the two pairs of sensors his team used. Each pair includes one laser with a resolution of 30 micrometres, and one ultrasonic sensor with 69 micrometre accuracy. As well as accuracy, having four sensors will increase the speed at which the robot is able to record measurements.

The robot also uses laser sensors to maintain its course of travel, and is capable of homing and straightening itself.

“There is nothing like this available on the market,” Dr Chen said. “It is a novel solution designed with industry-standard components, which makes it robust and easier for maintenance.”

Professor Chris Davies, Head of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Monash, sees this successful collaboration as a sign of things to come. "We’re really excited to be involved in projects such as this, which allow us to use our expertise to meet the needs of industry and demonstrate clear  pathways to employment for our students,” he said.

The project was also well received by Associate Professor Wenhui Duan, the director of the Nanoscience-based Construction Materials Manufacturing Hub. “We’re already in discussions with a wide range of industry partners about future projects. We welcome enquiries from organisations wanting to join us as we strive to develop efficient and innovative high performance construction materials and structures to meet Australia’s infrastructure needs,” he said.