Nobody likes potholes, but it often seems that they’re one of those hardships we just have to put up with until they get almost impassable ... after all, it’s a big deal to send out a road crew who will have to block one or two lanes of traffic for half an hour or more, while they risk being struck by inattentive drivers. Apparently, however, pothole-filling needn’t be such an involved process. Cities now have the option of using the Python 5000, which is a vehicle that is operated by one person from inside its cab, and that can patch a two-foot (0.6-meter) pothole in about two minutes.
To use the Python, its driver/operator starts by filling its rear 5-ton (4.5-tonne) hopper with either hot or cold-mix asphalt. It can then be driven at highway speeds, to the pothole in question.
Once there, the driver needs to block only the lane that the pothole is in, as they won’t be working outside of the vehicle themselves. Instead, they use a joystick to maneuver its extending, pivoting front working arm until it’s directly over the pothole, then apply a jet of compressed air to blast out any dirt, loose asphalt, water or other contaminants within the hole.
Next, they apply a layer of emulsive tack oil to the hole’s interior surface – this helps the new asphalt to adhere. A conveyor belt running from the hopper up through the arm then delivers fresh asphalt into the hole. That asphalt is kept at the desired working temperature while in the hopper, using heat from the vehicle’s engine exhaust. A rake and a roller attached to the arm are subsequently used to push the asphalt into place, and then press it down into a smooth finished patch.
According to the manufacturer, Saskatchewan-based Python Manufacturing Inc., patches made by the vehicle are equal in quality to the original road surface, and should last at least as long as those made by traditional road crews. In fact, they should last longer than patches made using the so-called “throw-and-go” method, in which asphalt is simply shoveled into a pothole that hasn’t been cleaned out or prepared first. The vehicle's hole-filling method is reportedly effective even at temperatures down to -40ºC/F, and allows a single user to patch approximately three times as many potholes as a multi-person crew could manage in one day.
The Python 5000 has actually been around for a few years, although it has recently garnered some new attention, as it is currently being tried out by the City of New York. If that trial goes well, other cities could follow suit.