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UB researchers testing pothole sensor

The University at Buffalo is partnering with researchers at a university in China to test an underground sensor that can detect weak spots in the road, so problem areas can be addressed before potholes form.

AMHERST, N.Y. — Chances are you've driven over or around a pothole or two so far this spring. The freeze/thaw cycle contributes to the bumpy mess on the road, but researchers from the University at Buffalo are working on something that could change that.

Members of the university's computer science and engineering department are partnering with China's Chang'an University to test underground sensors that continuously monitor road conditions. The area in China where the sensors are being tested has similar weather as Buffalo.

The so-called ePave sensors are the size of a quarter and are embedded two to three centimeters under the surface. They measure road temperature, stress on the pavement, and moisture.

The sensors do not require batteries. They are self-powered and harness energy from vibrations in the road when the cars drive over them.

The data collected by the sensors is transmitted wirelessly every minute and can be used to predict which areas might become problem spots and help alert when potholes are close to forming.

Developers say each sensor costs less than $50 to make. They are expected to last 10 years or longer buried in the ground and can work when road temperatures are as low as -40 degrees or as high as 200 degrees.

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