Jaguar Land Rover claims that potholes cause £2.8 billion (US$4.3 billion) worth of damage every year in Britain alone. Often lurking unseen until it's too late, they can puncture or shred tires, damage wheels and suspensions, and break axles. Now the company is developing the Pothole Alert system, which can not only identify the location and severity of potholes, broken drains, raised manholes, and similar hazards, but can warn other vehicles about them as well.

Developed by Jaguar Land Rover's Advanced Research Centre, Pothole Alert is based on a connected car technology that monitors the road in real time, identities potholes, and adjusts the suspension in a matter of milliseconds. It does this by way of the MagneRide high-performance, semi-active suspension control system, which uses magnetic particles suspended in a damping fluid that changes viscosity in the presence of a magnetic field.

"Our MagneRide equipped Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport vehicles feature sophisticated sensors that allow the vehicle to profile the road surface under the wheels and identify potholes, raised manholes and broken drain covers," says Mike Bell, Global Connected Car Director, Jaguar Land Rover. "By monitoring the motion of the vehicle and changes in the height of the suspension, the car is able to continuously adjust the vehicle's suspension characteristics, giving passengers a more comfortable ride over uneven and damaged road surfaces."

Jaguar Land Rover is currently working on extending the technology, such as sharing data in the cloud to warn other vehicles of approaching hazards, so drivers can slow down and avoid damage, or the car can adjust its suspension automatically.

Pothole Alert will be fitted into the Range Rover Evoque research vehicle, which will include an advanced forward-facing stereo digital camera. The latter will scan the road ahead for potholes and predict their severity even before the car reaches them. Fraunhofer is developing a similar pothole detection system, but it relies on LIDAR and is aimed at road maintenance authorities.

"Ultimately, sensing the road ahead and assessing hazards is a key building block on our journey to the autonomous car," says Bell. "In the future, we are looking to develop systems that could automatically guide a car around potholes without the car leaving its lane and causing a danger to other drivers. If the pothole hazard was significant enough, safety systems could slow or even stop the car to minimize the impact. This could all help make future autonomous driving a safe and enjoyable reality."

The company is also conducting research with Coventry City Council on how the anonymous information gathered by cars can be used to report road hazards immediately to the authorities and speed repairs. Eventually, the company hopes to be able to provide images of the pothole and a GPS location.

The video below introduces Pothole Alert.