Toledo Startup Wants to Take People out of Dangerous Road Crews

Pioneer Industrial Systems

How their AI-powered solution can save lives and perform efficiently

We’ve all driven by road crews on the side of a freeway, but you probably haven’t given them much thought. But that work being done to improve our roadways is a dangerous proposition. In fact, thousands of workers have been killed in crashes while on the side of the road. So what if we could eliminate that danger entirely? That’s the goal of Toledo’s Pioneer Industrial Systems and their Robotic Maintenance Vehicles. The vehicle is a truck chassis that can haul crack-sealing material with a custom robotic “advanced AI vision system” that allows the truck to go to work on its own.

“Currently, a manual crew is required for most of these repairs, and it takes a lot of manpower,” said Account Manager Tyler Roth. “A road like the Ohio Turnpike requires a lot of different safety vehicles and personnel. So the point of the RMV is to remove those workers from harm’s way. Those crews have a few people standing there with flags, two people standing with a hose sealing the cracks and someone driving the truck. Over 2,000 people have been killed doing this over the last 10 years. With RMV, you can drop a four- to six-man manual crew down to essentially one driver in a truck out of harm’s way and be able to do the same work.”

The RMV is being developed by the Pioneer team in partnership with Sealmaster, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of pavement sealer, with software built by Vista Solutions. But the technology is capable of eventually helping a number of different processes become automated. Roth said that, while they’re working on the crack sealer, the company has about 18 other applications they’re working toward, all capable of running out of the back of an automated truck.

“We’ve already done some development on a cone-picker and replacer so that people don’t have to go to the middle of the road and put cones down while cars fly past them,” he said. “Two years from now, we might be ready for robotic reflector replacement. We’re just starting with the crack sealer and, in the background, developing other products. Ten years from now, who knows what we can do. The sky’s the limit.”

Although safety is the paramount goal for Pioneer and the RMV, the technology can improve efficiency and use of resources as well. The robot can be more efficient and accurate with its work, doing a more consistent job and using materials more effectively. It also isn’t bothered by weather or human elements. That makes for a safer product while saving tax dollars and labor costs.

“First and foremost, we want to get people off the roads and out of danger,” Roth said. “And crack sealing is manually taxing, that’s why there are two or more people working on these crews; they have to trade off. A robot doesn’t get tired and doesn’t have to eat or take a break. So we’re eliminating not only the safety aspect, but the physical labor aspect. Someone can sit in the truck in the air conditioning or heat and simply make sure the truck is doing its job correctly.”

Though they’re in the early stages of rolling out the RMV, Pioneer has already established their crucial partnership with Sealmaster, who is exclusively selling the product from their 110 nationwide franchises and helped build a mobile kettle that can melt down the materials from the road. The company is pitching the idea all over the country to “all positive feedback” and a lot of buzz that has expectations set high. And from their headquarters in Toledo, the company is confident in their ability to grow thanks to the benefits of their home.

“We have great local connections here, it’s easy to get material or parts without shipping, and the Toledo business scene has been fantastic,” Roth said. “Anyone we’ve presented this to has been so supportive. Everyone’s question is, ‘How can I help?’ or ‘What can I do to get the word out?’ They’re not trying to be hired or get paid, they’re just excited for us and want to support us. And while many organizations are seeing a labor shortage, we’ve had a great experience hiring great talent over the last couple of years. Toledo is growing; Peloton and other companies are here, and it’s a great area right now for industry.”

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