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Rovaniemi-based company surveys the condition of the world’s road system

Sensor and analysis technology developed by Rovaniemi-based company Roadscanners is used to identify problem areas in roads before visible faults appear. As climate change progresses, intelligent road asset management based on digitalisation will be a strong part of the future.

Climate change and the increase in traffic are affecting roads no matter where in the world we are. In New Zealand, the shift from sheep breeding to dairy farming has increased the weight of lorries passing by, and at the same time, increasing rainfall has brought challenge for the road drainage systems. Angola’s roads are burdened by drought and increased traffic, while Canada and Northern Europe are fighting the freeze-thaw damage caused by weather changes. In Japan, old bridge structures have suffered from heavy use of deicing salt.

Rovaniemi-based Roadscanners is familiar with all these challenges. The company has developed a world’s leading software and sensor fusion systems for transport infrastructure research, that has been able to solve problems.

– The road aggregate doesn’t know if it’s in Rovaniemi or in New York. Problems are similar everywhere, although the root causes may be different. We have clients in 60 countries around the world, from Papua New Guinea to South America and from Iceland to the Antarctic, says Timo Saarenketo, CEO.

Measurements treat health, not disease

Roadscanners’ software is based on an analysis of the condition of the roads even before any visible damage occurs. The survey system can look under the surface without breaking the structures.

Road survey vehicles are usually mounted in Rovaniemi, but further away, the company goes on-site to install the sensors and trains customers on how to use the hardware and software. The goal is for the customer to be able to make the measurements by themselves, and if needed, the Roadscanners consultant will handle the demanding interpretation and analysis.

Vehicles with Roadscanners’ instrumentation are currently on the road in dozens of destinations around the world.

– We are able to locate problem areas and fix them so that the pavement life time can be extended. You could say that when a crack appears on the pavement, it is already too late. In that case, we have to treat the disease, when health care would have been more effective, Saarenketo describes.

Road condition requirements will rise in the future

According to Saarenketo, road infrastructure will face challenges worldwide not only directly due to climate change but also indirectly. According to him, the carbon emission targets will not be achieved without significantly increasing the size and total weight of trucks. The fast increase of intelligent transport and self-driving vehicles will also place demands on the roads.

Finland has been a pioneer in reducing carbon emissions, but Saarenketo is concerned about how the roads can cope this change.

– If we continue with today’s technology, the roads will disintegrate, and huge money needs to be spent on repairs. Change is inevitable and it may not please everyone. However, I believe that intelligent road asset management based on digitalization will be an important part of the future.

Saarenketo highlights Singapore, which he says is a pioneer in managing state assets in many ways.

– You will not see debris or cracks on the roads there. They want to take good care of common property and that is a paradigm I would like to see elsewhere too.

In many countries, such as Finland, we are in a situation where road distresses are already visible. It can be difficult to convince people to repair road that looks good on the surface, even though the measurement results are clear.

Proactive asset management would however be beneficial, as it would make operations more efficient.

– Proactive road management saves us money by keeping roads in good condition for longer time. Also, carbon emissions are significantly reduced when roads are well maintained and smooth. For the average motorist, proactive maintenance is seen first and foremost as better winter maintenance. Frost damages cannot be completely prevented, but at least they can be minimized, Saarenketo points out.

Customer meetings under the Northern Lights

In addition to Rovaniemi headquarters, Roadscanners has offices in Finland in Tampere and Vantaa.

Having a headquarters in Lapland is an advantage for the company.

– Rovaniemi is well known around the world. Clients are happy to come here as they can arrange also a meeting with Santa and maybe see Northern Lights on the same trip. The northern operating environment also gives us a good competitive edge in Arctic knowledge. The challenging weather conditions of the North are known worldwide, Saarenketo says.