Google has filed a patent for a way to track potholes across the United States, using your car's GPS navigation system and other sensors to detect damaged portions of a road, put that information into a database, and then use it to determine a less bumpy route.
Google could monitor the vibrations your car is subjected to when you rumble over a pothole, and cross reference that with GPS data — something that is standard on most cars these days. By doing this in many cars, Google could pinpoint where potholes have sprung up while also canceling out anomalies. All that data would then be used to alert drivers about damaged roads and suggest a way around them. (Hi, Google Maps.)
Google could point you in a smoother direction
The more data that can be collected about potholes and road damage, the better, because the country's infrastructure is flailing and underfunded. America loses an estimated $87 billion annually in lost time and fuel thanks to overcrowded roads. Potholes play a part in this: they create traffic, cause accidents, and damage vehicles. And, as Gizmodo points out, Google has a fleet of autonomous cars that it would love to introduce to all this data.
While the idea is novel, Google is certainly not the first to attempt something like this. The city of Boston has been running a program for the last few years called Street Bump that essentially does the same thing. The local government uses the crowdsourced data to alert riders to the location of potholes, assign crews to fix them in the short term, and plan longer-term investments to revamp stretches of road. The difference here is that Street Bump is a mobile app that collects data from drivers' phones. Google's idea, should it ever come to fruition, would likely be more detailed and more reliable.