Cleveland-based RoadPrintz Inc. receives $1M from National Science Foundation to advance mobile robotic pavement-marking system

Photo of RoadPrintz road-painting truck.

RoadPrintz Inc., a company co-founded by Case Western Reserve University engineering professor Wyatt Newman, has received a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research award of nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support ongoing research and development of the company’s operator-driven, truck-mounted, mobile robotic pavement-marking system.

The system that RoadPrintz uses is designed to replace the dangerous-and often dull-practice of hand-painting stencils of common roadway markings, such as turn arrows, bike symbols and railroad crossings.

The RoadPrintz technology allows these symbols to be painted robotically while the operator remains safely in the truck. The company will begin testing the system with established specialty pavement marking contractors next spring.

“Standing in the road watching the paint dry is the very definition of boredom,” said Newman, RoadPrintz co-founder and chief technology officer and a roboticist and professor of electrical engineering at the Case School of Engineering. “This is exactly the sort of application that robots are good for.”

The NSF award will fund additional research and development work in precision vision-based symbol painting; precision mapping and coordinate-based painting; automated creation and use of a database of precision road markings; and enhancement and validation of road-painting capabilities.

“We expect our system will reduce injuries and save workers’ lives while increasing labor productivity substantially,” said company co-founder and President Sam Bell, who also chairs the City of Cleveland Heights Transportation Advisory Committee.

Bell credited his committee work with raising his awareness of the dangers and high costs associated with traditional hand-stenciling methods for road markings.

Case Western Reserve’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO) licensed the robotics-based technology to RoadPrintz in November 2019.

“RoadPrintz is on a good trajectory,” said TTO Executive Director Michael Haag. “The company has leveraged a significant amount of translational resources in just over two years.”

RoadPrintz received initial funding and support from the Great Lakes Innovation Development Enterprise; the Technology Validation Startup Fund of the Ohio Third Frontier Fund; Case Technology Ventures; Guidemark Industries, Pennsylvania’s largest pavement markings contractor; and truck upfitter QT Equipment of Akron, in addition to previous NSF SBIR Phase I funding.

A video showcasing the company’s pre-production prototype in action can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/588534095 or on the company’s website, www.roadprintz.com.

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