If you’re a driver, you will already be well aware of the struggles of avoiding potholes. Some of our roads in the UK are plagued with holes and crevices that are not only detrimental to your car’s health. They also make for a horrid driving experience.
Thanks to funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), potholes might just be a thing of the past. The University of Leeds are leading a pioneering research project. This will see our roads in the UK being fixed up by robots thanks to a £4.2m investment from the EPSRC. The project is part of a broader infrastructure development programme which aims to develop small robots that fix a variety of problems on our network of roads.
The team, led by civil engineer Phil Purnell plan to develop robot designs and technologies in three primary areas:
- ‘Perch and Repair.’ – Research commissioned to develop drones that can perch on structures and perform various repair tasks. Such as repairing street lights and traffic lights.
- ‘Perceive and Patch.’ – Research commissioned to develop pothole-fixing drones that have the ability to autonomously inspect, diagnose and repair potholes on our roads
- ‘Fire and Forget.’ – Research commissioned to develop robots which will constantly operate within utility pipes. Performing regular inspections, repairs and reporting tasks.
So what are the advantages?
Using drones and robots for our infrastructural maintenance means that problems can be detected early. This prevents the need for larger and more disruptive repairs.
“Most of what we’re proposing is for the drones to do very simple and mundane tasks,” Purnell says. “When you look at major infrastructure failures—things like potholes or failures in pipe lines—they’re often caused by very small, millimeter-scale defects. And if those were caught early by an automated system, then the larger failures and inconveniences wouldn’t occur.”
“The critical part of this project is being proactive rather than reactive,” said Dr Raul Fuentes, from the Leeds University School of Civil Engineering, “This is crucial to ensuring we have sustainable and resilient infrastructure. We will target our interventions so that they are invisible to the human eye, before they become a real problem.”