In the latest in our Meet the Team series, Andy Crook, who directs and manages our fleet of video equipped ‘data-capture’ vans, takes time out to give us the lowdown on life at the Gaist coal-face…..

 What does your day-to-day role involve?

My main responsibilities are to organise, plan and distribute routes for our vans and ensure the operatives maintain a high-standard of data collection.

I also ensure the fleet is maintained both mechanically and technically, quickly identify and resolve any issues and address any health and safety challenges.

The client network details, with the area for surveying, are sent to me and I split-up the work into manageable work packages for the vans.

What does a high-standard of data look like? Is there such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ data?

At Gaist, we pride ourselves on the high quality of our data  – it’s really important as the better the data, the more information and insights our clients can secure.

To ensure this, our operatives have to adhere to certain guidelines regarding speed and light levels. This prevents problems like motion blur.

 Has Gaist always collected the data in this way?

No, when I started at the company six years ago, our survey work was done on foot rather than using the camera-equipped vans as we do now. We walked the entire length of whichever client’s highway network we were surveying.  I was very fit and thin then – I used to burn over 2,000 calories a day!

The first prototype of the Gaist vans emerged in the middle of 2014 and our first ‘proper’ fully built van was completed in the autumn of 2015.

Since then we have made upgrade after upgrade to ensure we are always pushing ourselves to the limits in terms of the volume and efficiency of data capture.

Capturing the data on foot can’t have been hugely efficient?

Of course, it was much less efficient than it is now.  Walking, we were able to cover 6-7km footage a day, whereas the vans today cover 15/20 times that area each day.

The range of defects in the network that you were able to identify has dramatically increased too?

Yes, back in the days when I joined the number of defects / damage types we used to look out for was about 20.

Today there are around 50 or 60 defects that we survey for, each with 2 or 3 classes. Defects are graded 1 to 5  with 1 being the best score and 5 being the worst.

In addition to potholes, the defects we survey for include: subsidence, cracking, wearing of the skid surface and fretting.

You have personally surveyed quite a vast area of the country’s road?

Yes in 2017 I covered virtually the entire UK network. It took around 14 months and it did feel like quite an achievement.

I was a bit disappointed about not doing the last one per cent – but we couldn’t quite finish it because of the weather and the time of year.

 What’s the process for analysing the data once you have captured it?

After we have captured it, we pass it over to our digital services team in Skipton. They process it and carry out the analysis and quality checking.

This work is critical because they provide the understanding of it and the insights and intelligence that supports the decision making of our clients, enables them to answer their key questions and to identify what action is needed at what time to stop defects in their tracks.

 How big a factor is the weather in your work?

Rain is the only thing that hampers us. Because of the robust systems we have in place to ensure our vehicles are out and about doing what they should be doing – not parked up in a garage –   everything else is manageable.

 Where does Artificial Intelligence fit in to the process?

AI helps us by combining large amounts of data with fast, iterative processing and intelligent algorithms which allow the software to learn automatically from patterns and features in the data ie. the vast library of images of road and footway surfaces we have captured.

Essentially, it helps us on our mission to help authorities understand three things: The current condition of their highway; What their roads are likely to look like decades from now and what is needed today to ensure optimum value for money.

Do you get questions from the public in relation to your cameras and privacy?

Now and again people ask us about what we are recording, but once we explain they are usually fine. We also direct them to our privacy explanation on our website which sets out what we do and what we record so it’s all really clear.

 Is it exciting to be part of an award-winning, forward-thinking company?

Most definitely. I’ve seen first-hand Steve’s (Birdsall, Gaist CEO) recognition that the existing structure and way of assessing road condition didn’t give enough information, how he came up with a fresh, different approach – and then watched that approach being proven over the last five years.

I feel proud to be part of the company getting bigger and better and knowing it’s due to the hard work of the team and the passion of Steve and his colleagues for what they are doing and the innovation and change they are bringing about across our industry.

For more information about our services or to talk over how we could help your organisation to gain a richer understanding of your asset and to use that knowledge to better plan operations, interventions and improvements, please email: info@gaist.co.uk