bots IN BRIEF
Smart Technology Gone to
Driving on roads covered in potholes is no fun. At
best, it can make your ride bumpier and less enjoyable.
At worst, it can cause serious damage to your vehicle
and, potentially, to its occupants. So, couldn’t cutting-edge technology help? Quite possibly, yes! At least,
that’s what researchers from the U.K. are claiming.
They have proposed an unorthodox approach to
pothole repairs in which cameras equipped with image
recognition technology constantly scan the streets for
developing flaws, dispatch a drone to the site, and then
use an onboard 3D printer to patch the hole with asphalt.
The concept is part of a larger multi-university project
looking at the possibility of self-repairing cities, and how
robotics and other automated systems could be used to aid
with repairs so as to cut down on disruptive road closures
and other street works.
While it might sound like overkill to use drones,
image recognition, and 3D printing for a simple repair job,
Phil Purnell, professor of Materials and Structures at the
University of Leeds, told Digital Trends recently that these
systems could actually save money in the long run. “When you
look at interventions in infrastructure — whether it’s roads,
pipes, bridges, or similar — you’re very often using ton and
meter-scale solutions for problems that started out as gram
and millimeter-scale defects,” he explained.
In the case of potholes, that means that what begins as
tiny coin-sized dents in the road can quickly grow in size as
the result of weather and repeated vehicular activity. By using
smart technology, the researchers think it can be nipped in
the bud early on so as to avoid later problems.
So far, researchers from University College London have
successfully built an asphalt extruder, which has then been
mounted onto a University of Leeds hybrid aerial-ground
vehicle for transportation. It’s capable of extruding asphalt
with one millimeter accuracy.
The technology is certainly impressive, although Purnell
noted that it’s still a long way off from actually being deployed
on roads. However, what the work demonstrates is a proof of
concept for how approaches such as this may be used in the
“From a technical view, this is like Formula 1,” he said.
“Twenty years ago, the idea of [technology such as] energy
recovery through braking systems was something that was
seen as exotic when it was used on Formula 1 cars. Now,
it’s commonplace in many hybrid vehicles that you can drive
about on the road today. It’s the same thing here. This is all
about demonstrating how we can glue the various pieces of
this puzzle together. We’re academics, so it’s our job to look
at the high concept approach. Through our interactions with
industry, they’ll then be able to find ways of implementing it.”
The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and was made known by
the Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson.
It’s part of a £21m funding for ‘Engineering Grand
Challenges’ research, which aims to tackle some of the major
issues facing science and engineering.
The researchers will initially develop new robot designs
and technologies in three areas:
• “Perch and Repair” — research to develop drones that
can perch like birds on structures at height and perform tasks,
such as repairing street lights.
• “Perceive and Patch” — research to develop drones
able to autonomously inspect, diagnose, repair, and prevent
potholes in roads.
• “Fire and Forget” — research to develop robots which
will operate indefinitely within live utility pipes performing
inspection, repair, metering, and reporting tasks.
12 SERVO 09/10.2018