High-Speed Inertial Profilers: A Fast Take on a Smooth Ride

Ensuring driver safety with new transportation technology
Installing the high-speed inertial profiler to measure pavement smoothness.

You’re driving down the highway on a section of fresh pavement, and what a difference that new asphalt makes! You can feel your car is handling better, and the ride is smoother. But do you know how much smoother?

We do, because we use a machine called a high-speed inertial profiler to calculate smoothness. And these machines are just as impressive as they sound. They mount directly onto a vehicle. They’re so great they don’t even need to be in contact with the road – they use an accelerometer, a range measuring laser and a distance meter to collect data and calculate the road’s smoothness.

Until recently, figuring out a road’s smoothness meant someone actually had to walk with the machine doing the measuring. And because someone was walking in the vehicle lane, it had to be closed to traffic. That also meant traffic control crews needed to be hired, and travel delays were inevitable. It was a long, slow process.

Now, with the new high-speed inertial profilers, a technician can gauge the road, by driving their vehicle at regular speed, eliminating impacts to other traffic. This greatly reduces testing time and allows for multiple passes, increasing the consistency and reliability of the data.

The readings we take are based on the International Roughness Index, used worldwide to gauge if and when road repairs or maintenance are required. Pavement roughness is defined as irregularities in the pavement surface that adversely affect the ride quality of a vehicle (and thus the user). Roughness can also increase travel time, fuel consumption and vehicle maintenance costs. Basically, we’re measuring the effects of the road on an average vehicle’s suspension. A road that’s too rough has to be fixed to meet specifications for a safe, smooth ride.

Improving measurements for smoothness is another example of how technology is changing highway maintenance for the better. And it shows we’re not just focused on making our roads faster and smoother – we’re doing the same for our business.

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Page 1 of 2 comments on “High-Speed Inertial Profilers: A Fast Take on a Smooth Ride”

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  1. Hi, I’m a smoothness tech for a company in ontario and I recently had to profile a section of road that was uphill/down hill. I had extreme trouble achieving repeat-ability.. I did a few other roads in the same area and i had no problems with repeat-ability only with the uphill/down hill section. I was wondering if you’ve have the same experience or have any insight as to why this is happening.

    • Hello Yasmine,

      Thanks for your message. We hire a consultant to collect the profiler data as the ministry does not own the profiler. The consultant surveys the highway sections using their profiler van and provides electronic copies of data to the ministry. Our staff does not operate the equipment. Based on our experience in past, for uphill/downhill sections it may be difficult to maintain constant speed compared to regular sections. It is also difficult to hold the wheelpath for uphill/downhill sections compared to regular sections. Because of this repeatability is not great for uphill/downhill sections. Same thing can also happen if you are surveying a traffic congested area where it is difficult to maintain constant speed. It should be noted that each equipment set up/ data collection system is different and you should consult the manufacturer for specific issues with the system. We hope that this is helpful. Thanks again.