3-D Laser Furthers Highway Research

Staff | September 28, 2010

Using a Laser Design RE-1208 3-D laser scanning system, faculty at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute scan roadway materials with the purpose of improving the quality of our highways. The research is federally funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) which was created in 1962 to conduct research through state departments of transportation in acute problem areas that affect highway planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance nationwide.

With expertise in simulative pavement testing and mechanistic pavement design, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department developed imaging techniques with the Laser Design scanning system to use on roadbed materials. The 3-D surfaces of aggregates are scanned to identify their properties such as texture, shape and surface characteristics. The scanned data add to the NCHRP's knowledge of how to build better, more stable roads. The mechanics of asphalt concrete, an important infrastructure material for pavements, is a fundamental tool for understanding its complicated behavior. New materials are compared to materials after they have been in service to determine how use breaks down their structure.

C. Martin Schuster, president of Laser Design, noted, "Laser Design's non-contact laser scanning systems are ideal for scanning these small roadway particles. They are irregularly shaped, so using a touch probe does not yield the highly accurate and complete data that our RE-1208 laser scanning system creates. Comparisons between the before and after particles are simplified with the Geomagic software program we supply with the system."

Research findings are published as quickly as possible in NCHRP reports to keep transportation administrators and practicing engineers on the cutting edge of research in the field. Although this research currently centers on determining the characteristics of aggregates used in roadway construction, the department is looking for other opportunities to use the non-contact scanning system to further research in the area of transportation engineering.