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Roadbotics CEO, Mark DeSantis

Introducing Mark DeSantis, CEO of Roadbotics (https://www.roadbotics.com). Roadbotics is an exciting Pittsburgh startup cataloguing roadways maintenance needs using a simple phone app. A lightly edited chat is below.

Zach

Hi Mark! Thank you for taking the time chat. Tell me about the mission behind Roadbotics?

Mark

Our nation’s physical infrastructure, in particular roads, are decaying. Completely replacing the roughly 2.6 million centerline miles of road in the US is just way, way too expensive.

The key, therefore, is to make the most of what we have now. That is, we need to maintain and enhance the existing roadways – called ‘road preservation’ – and do so as cost-effectively as possible. The first step is to know and assess the precise state of every foot of roadway, a sort of roadway inventory.

Roadbotics does this with a simple smartphone app (suction cupped on the windshield) and wheels. Our app takes in and assesses every crack, pothole, sign or other interesting anomaly and rates it. That info is then provided to the Public Works departments in the form of a map and recommendations.

Zach

Are you currently partnered with the city of Pittsburgh? Or, other cities in the country?

Mark

We did some early work with Pittsburgh and are looking for ways to sustain the relationship. We’ve approached five large cities in the US and a number of smaller cities. We will commence work in two cities in California, one in New York state and another in Western, PA within the next few weeks or so.

Zach

I previously worked in a state legislature and road maintenance complaints were always top of mind for constituents, so this seems like a huge opportunity. How large is the addressable marketplace?

Mark

We spend about $45B a year in the US to fix and maintain roadways.

Zach

How did the concept originate, or, what technology advancements made it possible?

Mark

This is a spinout of CMU and, more specifically, a program called Traffic 21. The core technology is machine learning driven video analytics. It is similar to the technology that is driving the Uber cars we see around town.

Zach

What sort of factors do the recommendations take into account?

Mark

The user sees a map that looks like this:

The system IDs and assesses every anomaly. The user looks at a map that shows every street as either red, yellow or green. When the user sees, say, a particular yellow or red intersection, they click that section and an image of the anomaly that drove the score pops up along with the needed work and cost of fixing it.

My dream is that cities would post the user map live online so every citizen can see the exact status of their roads and their particular street at any point in time.

Zach

Could this app ever be public facing? For instance, could I as a citizen download the app and record my roadways to log where I feel the infrastructure is lacking?

Mark

Yes, this app could be public facing, almost like a crowdsourcing tool.

Zach

Are there competitors in this space?

Mark

The competition right now is manual, meaning a couple of folks riding around looking at the street or road. The alternative is a very expensive piece of mobile equipment that measures every mile of roadway. The first one is not effective and the second one is not (cost) efficient.

Zach

Given all the recent political attention paid to infrastructure, this seems like an easy sell. Who are the right people within a city to adopt this technology?

Mark

It is a direct appeal to their public works departments, which has been very productive.

Zach

What has been the biggest lesson that has come from spinning this project off into a new company?

Mark

My biggest lesson in this (and prior companies) is persistence. Hard and unrelenting persistence pays off!

Zach

Thanks again for your time Mark! Make sure to check out https://www.roadbotics.com/!

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