Japan's 'highway doctor' does checkup on ageing roads and infrastructure

An Infra Doctor vehicle used by the Tokyo highway inspection system driving under a section of highway in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - As Japan takes on the mammoth task of upgrading its capital's outdated roads and infrastructure, a local "highway doctor" is betting that its 3-D technology can led a hand.

Tokyo's sprawling maze of ageing expressways, measuring 320km in length, have long been crying out for a facelift, some dating back to the last time the city hosted the Olympic Games in 1964.

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

Metropolitan Expressway 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 every nook and cranny of Tokyo's highways.

"We can easily detect the spots where there is ongoing damage as well as the 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 then transmitted back to company headquarters where desk-bound 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 an ageing population of 127 million is shrinking.

The company is also aiming to export the system, with testing already under way in Thailand.

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