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“Perceive and Patch” robots will autonomously inspect, diagnose, repair and prevent potholes in roads

The University of Leeds is to lead a national infrastructure research project with the aim of creating self-repairing cities. The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that small robots will be developed to identify problems with utility pipes, street lights and roads and to fix them with minimal disruption or environmental impact.

The £4.2m project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and is part of £21m funding for ‘Engineering Grand Challenges’ research. The aim is for robots to undertake precision repairs avoiding the need for large construction vehicles within the city.

Professor Phil Purnell, leading the research team from the School of Civil Engineering, said: “We want to make Leeds the first city in the world to have zero disruption from street works. We can support infrastructure which can be entirely maintained by robots and make the disruption caused by the constant digging up of the road in our cities a thing of the past.”

‘Perceive and patch’ robots will work autonomously, inspecting and repairing potholes, while ‘fire and forget’ robots will operate within utility pipes. There are also plans to develop flying ‘perch and repair’ drones which will be able to land on street lights and fix any problems. In all cases, the robots will be proactive; able to detect potential faults and address them before they become a problem.

The university team will work with Leeds City Council and the UK Collaboration for Research in Infrastructure and Cities to test the robots, after which they will be trialled “in a safe environment” on the streets of Leeds.

In August, Google filed a patent for technology that would see cars turned into automatic pothole reporters. The system combines a GPS-equipped infotainment system with a vertical movement sensor. Whenever a car hits a pothole, the location would be noted and the information uploaded to a central database – the idea being that over time and with enough cars sending reports, an accurate picture of the state of roads can be put together.

CTC, the national cycling charity, has said that delays in fixing potholes are a contributory factor in increasing numbers of cyclists being killed or seriously injured on British roads. Peter Box, Transport Spokesman for the Local Government Association, said that while councils fixed more potholes than ever before last year, current funding levels mean they are only able to carry out patching and filling rather than more cost-effective long-term improvements.

CTC’s FillThatHole.org.uk website allows cyclists to log problem roads and is then updated when councils or cyclists report that the defect has been fixed.

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