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Road-painting robot created in Northeast Ohio could save lives

road printz painting truck
Posted at 2:32 PM, Jan 20, 2022

CLEVELAND — A potentially life-saving project involving robots and road painting just got a $1 million boost from the National Science Foundation.

The kernel for an idea started in a Cleveland Heights Transportation Advisory Committee meeting. Case Western Reserve University engineering professor Wyatt Newman said “they ended up abandoning a really attractive plan because of the cost of the road painting.”

That’s when the professor said he got a call from a friend on the committee.

“He called me up because he knows I’m a roboticist and says, ‘where are the robots that do this?’ We both looked and said, they don’t exist, so we decided to make one.”

The idea started as a way to save cities money, but the two newly minted co-founders of Road Printz soon realized workers putting their lives at risk to paint roads with stencils was beyond outdated.

road printz painting truck 2
This road-painting truck from Road Printz leaves a robot called Stella to paint the road while workers guide her from safely inside the cab.

“You can see photographs of road crews 100 years ago using stencils,” he said.

The work desperately needed a fresh look. The co-founders spent a year kicking around ideas before building their first road-painting robot three years ago. But, as Wyatt explained, it needed some upgrades. It was “pretty much kite string and chewing gum.”

The team took their idea to QT Equipment in Akron. They asked the truck outfitters if they’d help them put a giant robot on the back of a truck, “and they said, ‘sure we’ll do that,’” according to Wyatt.

The new technology, now called Stella, is ready for its first production model to roll out in April.

Workers can sit safely inside the truck while Stella paints the road. Companies interested in the upgrade will be able to start beta testing the robot this spring. Wyatt says he’s pretty sure this has never been done before.

“As far as putting a one-ton robot on the back of a Ford truck, we appear to be the first to have done that," he said.