Drones

Researchers developing drones to autonomously repair the cities of the future

Researchers developing drones ...
A new project led by the University of Leeds aims to deploy an army of maintenance robots to repair things like potholes and busted street lamps
A new project led by the University of Leeds aims to deploy an army of maintenance robots to repair things like potholes and busted street lamps
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A new project led by the University of Leeds aims to deploy an army of maintenance robots to repair things like potholes and busted street lamps
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A new project led by the University of Leeds aims to deploy an army of maintenance robots to repair things like potholes and busted street lamps

A lot of time and effort goes into keeping our cities in working order. Potholes need filling, power lines need maintaining and street light globes need replacing when blown. But a new initiative led by the University of Leeds could soon see these labor-intensive tasks taken care of by an army of drones that keep a watchful eye over our streets, tending to cracks in our urban environment the moment they begin to appear.

The £4.2 million (US$6.4 million) research project carries the overarching aim of ushering in "self-repairing cities." That is, the goal is to develop a team of small robots that detect problems with infrastructure as soon as the pop up, to prevent them developing into inconvenient roadworks or other larger repair projects.

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

The research is broken down into three areas, each pertaining to a specific kind of machine to perform a specific kind of task. Dubbed "perch and repair," the first arm aims to develop drones that can perch on structures just as birds do, swooping in to repair things like busted street lights.

Meanwhile, "perceive and patch" will involve the development of drones that keep watch over the city streets, autonomously detecting and repairing potholes in roads, whereas "fire and forget" is looking to develop robots that can function independently and indefinitely inside live utility pipes, carrying out inspections, repairs, metering and reporting tasks.

"The critical part of this project is being proactive rather than reactive,” said Dr Raul Fuentes, from the university's 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."

Having only just announced the project, a lot of questions remain as to how exactly drone technology can be advanced so the machines can safely tackle these problems in densely populated areas. Robotics researchers at ETH Zürich's institute for Dynamic Systems and Control have made important strides forward when it comes to using drones in construction, last month demonstrating a walkable rope bridge built autonomously by flying robots.

Europe's Aerial Robotics Cooperative Assembly System (ARCAS) project, a consortium of robotics professors from around the continent, is looking at how drones can fly in cooperation to share the the weight of heavy building materials, overcoming one of the most pressing limitations of the technology: minimal payload capacity.

How the University of Leeds team approaches these problems will be interesting to see, with the research also set to explore the social, environmental, political and economic effects of a robotic workforce on the city. According to City Lab, Purnell claims the robots will be ready for testing next year.

Source: University of Leeds

7 comments
ezeflyer
Robots like these are putting people out of jobs. We had better start thinking about what we will do when robots take over as eventually they will. This could be a good thing if people are released from job drudgery and have free time to enjoy but still have enough resources to meet their basic needs plus. This could be a bad thing if the owners of these robots use their profits to hoard all the resources, leaving few for the public to fight over.
Bob Flint
Have a difficult time imagining a swarm of drones hovering around a burnt out light trying to un-do a rusty screw to remove a cover, and remove a bulb, then replace with the new bulb. Much less those carrying hot asphalt to patch a pot hole and since they usually are very lightweight trying to compact the asphalt, oh yeah rover heavy weight ground based rollers, that can also instantly appear at the site without being run down by other traffic. Dream on ever wonder why the cities fall into disrepair.....$$$
B. Stott
New Welfare? Sadly: The displaced human pothole filler will become welfare eligible. Having negligible skills already, a high probability for lack of being very trainable and a proclivity to ignorance. But? * Will the robot society bring about different welfare systems? * Will the generally educated and skilled working populace become eligible to the fruits from the robot's efforts by being compensated for jobs lost? * Will skilled workers be allowed eligibility for dole the same as those who refuse mandatory education and available training programs and having no appreciable skills do now? * Will many become equal in non-working lifestyles as much becomes delegated to the robot? And if so, what levels of living can we expect? How will the new welfare pay levels be determined? Is this a coming of Utopia or the other?
Stephen N Russell
Once proven, export to the US esp So CA- LA CA & Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Newark, Cleveland alone
Douglas Bennett Rogers
People will be retired and spend all their time working on their standby generators!
Gizzyfuel
I rather see a new type of job where you have to identify mark and call in the robot to fix it and be able to block off the area and to protect the robot being destroyed or stolen or worse cause human life being injured. So really for every robot they have 3 or 5 guys handling the robot
Joseph Mertens
The Unions will freak out. The silly people who worry about rich people hording should face the facts that the CITES and Governments are the one saving money not rich people. After farm manchinery was invented 98% of the population was able to do other tasks greatly advancing humanity so stop with the foolish oh we will all be out of jobs nonsense as every such advance has a transition period and then a golden age.