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Bearing Capacity of Roads, Railways and Airfields – Loizos et al.

© 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-1-138-29595-7

Application of pattern classification techniques for anisotropic

characterization of pavement foundations

R.S. Ashtiani & M. Asadi

The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, USA

ABSTRACT:  Several factors such as moisture state, particle geometry, gradation parameters, fines con-
tent, and the nature of stress paths contribute to the directional dependency of material properties in the
granular layers. The motivation for this study was to evaluate the applicability of pattern classification
techniques to provide class discriminatory information of the laboratory observations. For this purpose,
several experimental permutations were subjected to variable dynamic confining pressure stress path tests
to study the synergistic influence of different factors on the anisotropic behavior of aggregate systems.
The laboratory tests and the post processed data were in turn used to evaluate the relevance of pattern
classification techniques to unravel physically meaningful information of the multi-dimensional dataset.
The results of this effort will be instrumental for the practitioners to potentially reduce the number of
features needed to be determined in the laboratory for a refined and cost-effective testing protocol.

1  INTRODUCTION in granular materials theoretically using tensor

analyses (Oda & Nakayama 1989). Adu-Osei et al.
Unbound granular layers are integral component (2001) studied the impact of aggregate characteris-
of the highway pavements and airfield runways. tics on the level of anisotropy and demonstrated its
The main role of such layers is to distribute and dependency on particle size distribution, particle
reduce the traffic induced stress to a tolerable shape, and moisture content at a certain level of
level for sub grade soils. Additionally they serve compaction.
as robust platform for the surface to maintain Several predictive models have been proposed
adequate ride quality. Traditional pavement design in the literature to estimate the anisotropic behav-
approaches characterize the Unbound Aggregate ior of the UAB (e.g. Kim et al. 2005; Masad et al.
Base (UAB) layers as an isotropic medium. How- 2006; Ashtiani et al. 2008). Ashtiani et al. (2008)
ever, it is acknowledged by many researchers that proposed a simple procedure to evaluate the level
isotropic modeling of UAB causes the mechanical of anisotropy of aggregate systems using some
response of the pavement to be evaluated unreal- easily determinable aggregate properties. Subse-
istically (Karasahin et al. 1993; Masad et al. 2006; quently, they used the level of anisotropy as an
Wang & Al-Qadi 2013). Accordingly, some efforts input to predict the performance of aggregate
have been made to develop predictive models as bases. On the other hand, a number of research-
well as testing protocols to properly capture the ers have investigated the effect of loading on
anisotropic characteristics of the UAB (Adu-Osei the anisotropic responses of granular material.
et al. 2001; Kim et al. 2005; Ashtiani & Little 2009). Tutumluer & Seyhan (1999) studied the influ-
The directional dependency of material prop- ence of multiple stress path on the anisotropic
erties of the aggregate base is twofold. It is firstly behavior of granular materials. They utilized the
due to the characteristics of the material such as University of Illinois Fast Cell (UI-FC) for simu-
particle geometry and particle size distribution, lating the dynamic stresses on aggregate material
also known as inherent anisotropy; and secondly as a result of the moving traffic loads. Adu-Osei
due to the rotation of stress fields as a result of et al. (2001) tested aggregate materials at different
moving traffic loads, which is often referred to as stress states and dynamic stress paths using Rapid
stress-induced anisotropy in the literature. Early Triaxial Testing (RaTT) cell, and calculated the
attempts to investigate the impact of particle size anisotropic parameters through system identifica-
and geometry on the anisotropic response of gran- tion method scheme. He investigated the material
ular materials were made by Parkin et al. (1968), under three different stress regimes to capture the
El-Sohby (1969) and Oda (1972). Later, a number parameters required for characterization of trans-
of contributors assessed the concept of anisotropy versely isotropic media.

In the area of pavement engineering, pattern (Ey) can be represented by Equation 1. Also, the
classification techniques have been used mostly for horizontal resilient modulus (Ex) and the shear
automatic detection and classification of surface modulus (Gxy) can be determined by equations 2
distresses in place of the human labor (e.g. Saar & and 3, respectively.
Talvik 2010; Wu et al. 2014). In current research, k5 k6
these approaches were employed to study cross  I  τ 
anisotropic behavior of UAB. For this purpose, E x = k4 Pa    oct + 1 (2)
 Pa   Pa 
initially a comprehensive experiment design was
developed to establish a multi-dimensional aggre- k8
 I  τ 

gate feature database. The database consists of fea- G xy = k7 Pa    oct + 1 (3)

tures of aggregates mixes with different lithologies  Pa   Pa 
and gradations which are tested at different satura-
tion levels. Nonlinear and cross-anisotropic mate- Several researchers have investigated the fac-
rial parameters were determined using Variable tors influencing the resilient behavior of aggregate
Dynamic Confining Pressure (VDCP) stress paths. systems subjected to moving traffic loads. Among
Aggregate Imaging System (AIMS) was employed these factors, moisture state, dry density, aggregate
to characterize the particle geometry parameters. geometry and stress path have been identified as
Subsequently, Hierarchical Clustering Analysis the factors that have the most considerable impact
(HCA) techniques based on different measures on the orthogonal load distribution capacity of
of distance were employed to investigate the simi- unbound aggregate systems. It is widely accepted
larities between the distributions of the param- that the resilient modulus significantly deteriorates
eters. Furthermore, Fisher’s Linear Discriminant as the saturation level increases (Dawson et al.
Analysis (LDA) and K Nearest Neighbor (KNN) 1996). Dry density (or degree of compaction) of
algorithm were used to classify the data based on aggregate materials is another factor which plays
predefined criteria. The results of this study iden- a crucial role in the resilient behavior. Generally,
tify the aggregate features with similar patterns the aggregate matrix becomes stronger and stiffer
and thus provide a deeper understanding of the as the dry density increases. It is worth mention-
underlying relations and interactions between the ing that the influence of dry density variations on
features of aggregate database. the resilient modulus is not the same for systems
with different lithologies, fine contents, and stress
states (Hicks 1970). Aggregate shape is considered
2  ANISOTROPIC CHARACTERIZATION as another factor which significantly affects the
OF UAB resilient behavior of granular materials. Roughly-
textured and angular aggregates form a stiffer
The resilient modulus (MR) of UAB is nonlin- mass through development of strong interlock-
ear, stress-dependent and anisotropic. The new ing forces. Previous studies have confirmed that
Mechanistic Empirical Design Guide (MEPDG) crushed aggregate material with high angularity
considers the following equation to capture the and rough texture shows higher resilient modulus
nonlinearity as well as hardening-softening behav- compared with the rounded and smooth counter-
ior (Uzan 1999): part (Ashtiani et al. 2008).
The moving nature of traffic loads adds another
 I  τ 
k3 component to the stiffness anisotropy of aggregate
M R = k1Pa    oct + 1 (1) layer in the pavement structure. Figure  1 sche-
 a  a
P P  matically illustrates the stresses felt by the mate-
rial below the surface due to moving wheel load
where I  =  first stress invariant; τoct is octahedral over the pavement. As is shown in this figure,
shear stress; Pa = atmospheric pressure; and k1, k2, the vertical stress (σy) reaches its maximum right
k3 are fitting parameters. In this equation, the term beneath the wheel load and reduces nonlinearly
(I/Pa)k2 is known as the hardening component, as the wheel moves away from the reference point.
which captures the stiffening effect of aggregate Similar manner is followed by the horizontal stress
matrix when subjected to repeated loading. On the (σx) but with a lower magnitude. Furthermore, the
other hand, (τoct/Pa)k3 is referred to as the soften- slope of the stress plot in the case of vertical stress
ing component, which characterizes the reduction is much higher than the horizontal stress. Conse-
of stiffness after exceeding the threshold load as quently, at any given point an extension-compres-
a result of the cumulative damage induced to the sion-extension stress regimen is experienced as
matrix. the wheel load passes over the pavement section.
In order to fully characterize the UAB as an Although the magnitude of the tensile stresses may
anisotropic medium, the vertical resilient modulus be very small, the rotation of the principal stress

were tested in three moisture conditions: Optimum
Moisture Content (OMC), dry of optimum mois-
ture content (-2% of OMC), and wet of optimum
moisture content (+2% of OMC). Specimens were
fabricated following (ASTM D1557) to determine
the optimum water content and maximum dry
density of each gradation variant. Table 1 provides
the labels selected to identify materials and features
of the aggregate database.
Traditional triaxial test protocols are com-
monly suitable for simulating the state of the
stresses under stationary loads. On the other hand,
dynamic stress path tests can be used to simulate
the stress states developed in aggregate layers by
the traffic loads. Such a proper test protocol is able
Figure 1.  Distribution of normal and shear stresses at a
given point under a moving wheel load.
to capture the extension-compression-extension
stress regimens induced by moving wheel loads.
Particularly, VDCP type stress path tests take
plane will result in additional level of anisotropy advantage of applying dynamic vertical pressure as
induced on aggregate structure. Hornych et al. well as dynamic confinement on the specimen for
(2000) pointed out that the aforementioned stress a more realistic simulation of field conditions. In
regimen can increase the rate of plastic strains up this study, a customized triaxial setup called RaTT
to three times greater than those measured from (Rapid Triaxial Test) cell was used to perform
repeated plate load tests. VDCP stress path tests in accordance with the
Due to the role of stress states in directional stress path protocol outlined in ICAR/508 report.
dependency of material properties, anisotropic (Ashtiani & Little 2009)
characterization of granular materials using con- RaTT cell device is controlled by a multi channel
ventional tests such as plate load test or tradi- data acquisition system which is capable of apply-
tional triaxial setup is irrelevant. Therefore, some ing both vertical and dynamic confining pressures.
researchers have proposed new testing protocols The general setup for the stress path test using this
to simulate the rotation of principal stresses in the apparatus is consisted of RaTT cell mounted in the
laboratory. Universal Testing Machine (UTM), data acquisi-
Adu-Osei et al. (2001) developed a laboratory tion system, and a computer for control and stor-
testing protocol for anisotropic characterization of age of the data. This customized setup supports
unbound granular material. He applied ten static automated cell movement and multiple displace-
stress states followed by small dynamic excursions ment measurement with Linear Variable Differen-
in the stresses to obtain three stress regimes namely tial Transducers (LVDT) in both directions.
triaxial compression, triaxial shear, and triaxial The testing protocol provides a means to deter-
extension. Consequently, he determined the cross- mine cross anisotropic material properties including
anisotropic parameters of aggregate material via a elastic modulus in the horizontal and vertical direc-
back-calculation scheme called System Identifica- tions (Ex and Ey), Poisson’s ratio in the horizontal
tion (SID) method. A similar testing protocol is direction due to vertical loading (vxy), Poisson’s ratio
adopted in current study for anisotropic charac- in the horizontal direction due to horizontal load-
terization of the UAB. ing (vxx) and shear modulus (Gxy). For this purpose,
applied stresses and measured strains are used as
input parameters to an iterative error minimization
Table  1.  Classification criteria and class labels of the
Various aggregate systems with distinct lithologies aggregate database.
were evaluated to study the factors that influence
the cross anisotropic behavior of unbound aggre- Classification Class
gate systems. Three gradation variants (i.e. coarse, Criterion Labels
well and fine gradations) of different granite, lime-
stone and gravel aggregates obtained from ten Lithology Limestone Granite Gravel
(L) (N) (G)
sources in Texas, Oklahoma and Minnesota, were
Gradation Coarse (1) Well (2) Fine (3)
incorporated into the experiment design. In order
Moisture Dry (D) Optimum Wet (W)
to investigate the effect of moisture state on the state (O)
mechanical response of the aggregates, the materials

technique (i.e. the SID) to simultaneously solve lead to a high dimensional aggregate database. In
four of the five anisotropic material properties (Ex, principle, the more information we gather about a
Ey, vxx, and vxy). The fifth material property (Gxy) phenomenon, the more accurate insight into that
is determined using elastic work potential rela- phenomenon we can achieve. However, analysis
tionships derived specifically for the shear stress of a database containing large number of data
regimen. Subsequently, the five cross anisotropic deems necessary to employ dimensionality reduc-
material properties as well as prescribed stresses in tion techniques to eliminate correlated features. In
the lab can be fitted to the material models, Equa- other words, the dimensionality reduction is syn-
tions 1 through 3, to determine the nine k param- onymous to the selection of the features with high-
eters for each aggregate system. The calculated k est significance. This is more pronounced when the
values will be used as input to characterize nonlin- development of prediction models becomes the
earity, stress dependency, and anisotropic behavior objective of the research.
of unbound aggregate systems in the lab. Dimensionality reduction is essentially a process
It is intuitively relevant that aggregate geom- of feature selection and thus can be regarded as a
etry characterized by its shape, angularity, and clustering problem. Clustering algorithms are cat-
texture greatly influence the level of anisotropy egorized into two general types namely supervised
unbound aggregate systems. This is mainly due and unsupervised approaches. The term supervised
to the contribution of the geometry to the inter- implies that the clustering is performed based on
locking mechanism in particulate systems. In this predefined training patterns. On the other hand,
study, aggregate geometry was characterized in unsupervised algorithms cluster the data only
terms of particle form, angularity, and texture according to the inherent scatter of the data. The
using the AIMS. Aggregate form refers to flat classification techniques employed in current
or elongated shape of the particles; angularity research include: Hierarchical Clustering Analysis
defines the degree of roundness or sharpness (HCA), K Nearest Neighbor (KNN), K-means
of aggregate corners; and texture is related to clustering and Fisher’s Linear Discriminant Anal-
small asperities at the surface of particles from ysis (LDA). These techniques have been success-
which the surface roughness originates (Kim et fully applied in several engineering practice such
al. 2005). Fifty-six aggregate particles from three as: geotechnical site characterization (Hegazy &
aggregate sizes of each source were evaluated Mayne 2002), detection of crack in pavements (Wu
using the AIMS device. Several two parameter et al. 2014), prediction of landslides due to rain-
and three parameter distribution functions were falls (de Souza & Ebecken 2012) and travel time
fitted to the aggregate geometry data. Based prediction on high-ways (Tak et al. 2014), to name
on the best fit analysis of the database, it was a few.
observed that the two-parameter Weibull distri- K-means is a clustering technique aiming to
bution provides a reasonable fit for both parti- generate exactly K different groups of data with
cle size distributions and geometrical properties greatest possible distinction (Duda et al. 2000).
of the aggregates data at a 95% confidence level. K-means algorithms require the number of clusters
The cumulative Weibull distribution function is (K), an initial assignment of data to clusters and
of the following form: the distance measure between data points. On the
other hand, HCA is another clustering approach
  d 
which only relies on a measure of similarity (or dis-
Q(d ) = 1 −  −    (4) tance) between the data points. The Euclidian dis-
 α  tance (also known as average distance) between all
pairs of objects in two clusters (r and s) is defined
where, d  =  the aggregate size; α  =  scale param- in Equation 5 as:
eter; and β = shape parameter. These distribution
parameters, which can be determined through fit- nr ns
ting the particle size distribution and aggregate d ( r, s ) =
nr .ns
∑ ∑ dist(x ri , xsj ) (5)
shape properties data to the Weibull distribution i =1 j =1
function, were later imported to the aggregate fea-
ture database. where, nr and ns are the number of samples in the
clusters r and s, respectively. On the other hand,
the Mahalanobis distance is defined as:
dist( xri , xsj ) = ( xri − xsj )D −1 ( xri − xsj )T (6)
Anisotropic behavior of unbound aggregate sys-
tems is influenced by several aggregate features. In this equation, the distance between data
Hence, any comprehensive experimental study will points is normalized by the covariance matrix D.

Consequently, this measure is less sensitive to the function applied to the multi-dimensional aggre-
outliers of the system, and typically results in bet- gate database.
ter classification rates. Classification based on the aggregates’ lithol-
The objective of LDA is, in essence, to project ogy resulted in 73% classification rate. Based on
the data onto the direction which gives the best the statistical classification analysis of the data,
classification scheme. This can be achieved if angularity parameter, dry density, and k6 param-
within class scatter (SW) is minimized and, simul- eter, i.e. exponent of the hardening term for hori-
taneously, between class scatter (SB) is maximized. zontal modulus model, were found to be the most
Mathematically, the best direction vector (w) can influential features of the database. Classification
be obtained by maximizing the following objective based on gradation resulted in 62% classification
function (Duda et al. 2000): rate. SFS algorithm selected angularity param-
eter, k3 and k9, i.e. exponents of softening terms
wT SB w for vertical and shear modulus, respectively, as the
J (w) = (7) features that best explain the system’s behavior.
wT SW w
Finally, classification based on the moisture state
resulted in 52% classification rate and the features
KNN is another widely-used classification
selected by SFS were k3, i.e. softening exponent of
method that determines the class label for unla-
the vertical modulus, and k7, i.e. multiplier in the
beled data points based on their similarity. In this
shear modulus.
method, the class of the data is labeled based on
The best classification rate of 73% was observed
the majority vote of its neighbors. Hence, in binary
when classification was performed according to
classification problems the K would be chosen as
the lithology of the aggregates in the experiment
an odd number to avoid tied votes. For most prac-
matrix. The aggregates elected in the experiment
tical purposes, K is assumed as a positive integer
design had significantly different angularity char-
typically smaller than 10.
acteristics. This was confirmed by unenforced
In current study, discriminatory information
selection of this feature in the clustering analy-
among the features of the aggregate database was
sis. Natural selection of the angularity feature by
investigated through two approaches. In the first
mathematical algorithm is in conformity with the
approach, the classification was performed by
intuitive sense of the role of particle geometry
means of HCA based on two different distance
on the anisotropic behavior of aggregate systems.
measures of the data, namely Euclidean distance
Since load transfer in particulate media is carried
and Mahalanobis distance. After choosing the
out through particle interactions and interlock-
proximity measure, K-means algorithm was used
ing effect between solid grains, aggregate systems
to find the matching samples in each cluster. The
with more angular particles are expected to be
significance of this analysis is that it identifies
less prone to develop plastic deformations when
aggregate features with similar patterns subjected
subjected to external loads. To further investigate
to stimuli such as stress path tests. This analysis can
the role of the aggregate angularity, the shape and
potentially unravel the underlying relations and the
scale parameters of the aggregate angularity were
interaction between the features of the aggregate
removed from the database and the classification
system. In the second approach, the laboratory
algorithm was executed without these parameters.
measurements and post processed aggregate data
The removal of the angularity features resulted
were classified using Fisher’s LDA. In addition,
in significant drop in the classification rates from
KNN algorithm was also applied to improve the
73% to 46%.
performance of the classifier based on pre-defined
class labels. This approach helps to analyze the sep-
arability of the features in order to develop effec- 5.2  Hierarchical clustering analysis
tive testing protocols and/or regression analyses.
In order to find physically meaningful patterns
among the features of the aggregates, hierarchical
unsupervised clustering analyses were also per-
formed on the database. The results of hierarchi-
cal clustering of the features based on average and
5.1  Supervised clustering analysis
Mahalanobis proximity measures are illustrated in
Supervised clustering analysis was performed Figures 2, 3, respectively.
on the aggregate data based on three classifica- The general findings from these two dendograms
tion criteria namely lithology, gradation, and are very similar to each other. As demonstrated in
moisture state. Additionally, Sequential Forward Figure 2, k1 and k4, which are the multipliers of the
Selection (SFS) algorithm was applied to select elastic modulus in vertical and horizontal direc-
the features that minimize the mean square error tions, respectively, have the closest patterns in the

drop of orthogonal stiffness and hence accelerates
the rutting potential in granular layers. This reduc-
tion of stiffness properties in unbound systems is
synonymous with increase of the softening param-
eter in Equation 1. Therefore, the patterns of the
softening parameter and water content obtained in
this study are in agreement with the expected behav-
ior of unbound aggregates.

5.3  Discriminant analysis

Fisher’s LDA was used in order to provide class
discriminatory information among the features
of the aggregate database. Initially, the eigenval-
ues and eigenvectors of Fisher’s criterion (SW−1SB)
were determined, and then the data were projected
onto the principal components with the highest
eigenvalues. The knee in the resulted plot (Fig. 4)
suggests that the first two principal components
of Fisher’s criterion can reasonably explain the
dynamic nature of the system. In addition, KNN
Figure 2.  Hierarchical clustering of aggregates’ features
using Euclidean distance as the proximity measure. classifier with different values of K (number of
neighbors) was applied to the projected data to
evaluate the classifier’s performance.
The classification rates for both raw and pro-
jected data after applying KNN classifier are
shown in Figure  5. According to this figure,
Fisher’s discriminant criterion accompanied by
KNN algorithm is well capable of providing class
discriminatory information when the class labels
are considered based on lithology. Furthermore,
Figure  5 suggests that this technique is not able
to provide class discriminatory information when
particle size distributions and moisture state are
regarded as true class labels.

Figure 3.  Hierarchical clustering of aggregates’ features

using Mahalanobis distance as the proximity measure.

dataset. This is in line with our prior knowledge

of the behavior of aggregate systems. On the other
hand, Figures 2, 3 show similar patterns for soften-
ing parameters (k3 and k9) and the water content
(w). It is well established in the literature that ingress
of moisture in unbound aggregate systems results in Figure 4.  Eigenvalues of Fishers’ criterion (SW−1SB).

Figure  6 illustrates a good classification of
aggregate data through LDA accompanied by
KNN classifier. Although gravel aggregates are
fully separated using LDA+KNN classifier, some
misclassifications is evident in limestone and
granite materials. Moreover, limestone and gravel
aggregates have more condensed projections com-
pared to granite aggregates. This could be due
to the method of identifying aggregate types for
construction purposes where limestone and gravel
have more distinct definitions compared to granite.
Distribution of the observations before applica-
tion of LDA projection and KNN is shown in Fig-
ure 7. This plot when compared to Figure 6, clearly
demonstrates the significance of LDA+KNN
method in providing appropriate class discrimina-
tory information between the aggregate features. Figure 7.  Classification using LDA projection based on
The results of classification analyses with regard to lithology (L: Limestone, N: Granite and G: Gravel).
other criteria and the corresponding distributions
are presented in Figures 8–11.

Figure 5.  Performance of the classifier based on differ-

ent criteria.
Figure  8.  Classification using LDA+KNN projection
based on gradation (1: Coarse, 2: Well and 3: Fine).

Figure  6.  Classification using LDA+KNN projection

based on lithology (L: Limestone, N: Granite and G: Figure 9.  Classification using LDA projection based on
Gravel). gradation (1: Coarse, 2: Well and 3: Fine).

this information can be used to develop more pre-
cise data-driven models such as regression models
and artificial neural networks.
The comprehensive experiment design consisted
of three aggregate types from ten different sources
with three distinct gradations molded at three dif-
ferent moisture states were incorporated in this
research effort. Subsequently, the aggregate sys-
tems were subjected to multiple variable dynamic
confining pressure stress path tests to determine
parameters associated with anisotropic material
properties. Aggregate geometry was character-
ized in terms of particle form, angularity, and tex-
ture using the AIMS. The distributions of these
parameters were, in turn, quantified through the
cumulative Weibull distribution function, and
Figure 10.  Classification using LDA+KNN projection the parameters of the models were imported to the
based on moisture state (D: Dry, O: Optimum and W: aggregate feature database for post processing.
Wet). Unsupervised clustering techniques were per-
formed on the features of the aggregate system to
identify natural groupings present in the aggregate
database. Dimensionality reduction techniques
were also employed to find class discriminatory
information between the observations. The best
classification rate was achieved when classifica-
tion was performed based on aggregates lithology.
It was also confirmed that the angularity plays a
crucial role in the anisotropic behavior of aggre-
gate systems.
Additionally, Fisher’s LDA accompanied by
KNN algorithm was used to find class discrimi-
natory information based on pre-selected features
of the aggregate database. To accomplish this, the
Eigenvectors of Fisher’s LDA were calculated, and
the data was projected onto the two principal com-
ponents with highest Eigenvalues. The KNN algo-
rithm was used to calculate class rates according to
Figure  11.  Classification using LDA projection based the true class labels. The highest rate was obtained
on moisture state (D: Dry, O: Optimum and W: Wet). when the classification was carried out based on
lithology using Fisher’s LDA in combination with
6  CONCLUSIONS the KNN algorithm.

The main objective of this study was to assess the

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