Business / Tech

'Highway doctor' taps 3-D tech to diagnose Tokyo's aging expressways


As Tokyo takes on the mammoth task of upgrading its outdated roads and infrastructure, a local “highway doctor” is betting that 3-D technology can lend a hand.

Tokyo’s sprawling maze of aging expressways, measuring 320 km, has long been crying out for a face-lift, with some stretches dating back to the last time the city hosted the Olympics in 1964.

And with the Tokyo 2020 Games just three years away, there is no time like the present.

Metropolitan Expressway Co., the entity that operates and maintains the toll highways, has developed just the tools. It sends out cars equipped with cameras and laser sensors on their roof — similar to Google’s Street View service — to snap images of their every nook and cranny.

“We can easily detect spots where there is ongoing damage as well as places that have been repaired in the past,” said Masaaki Sakuma, an official in charge of infrastructure inspection at a Metropolitan Expressway unit.

The collected data are transmitted back to company headquarters, where technicians use special software to create 3-D images that help pinpoint problems much quicker than the time-consuming method of sending out road crews for on-site inspections, the developers say.

It also helps deal with a shortage of workers, according to advocates — a pressing issue in Japan where the aging population of 127 million is shrinking.

The company is now aiming to export the system, with testing already underway in Thailand.