Potholes dot surface streets, wreaking havoc on tires. Streetlights go out, leaving roads dark and uninviting once the sun goes down. Pipes burst and rust and slowly degrade, deep under the surface of the city where no one can see them. Sounds like a nightmare, right? But if a group of researchers at the University of Leeds has its way, all of these present-day horrors will seem like exaggerated, old-fashioned boogeymen.
Instead of relying on human repair crews, and their attendant equipment and traffic snarls, the University is teaming up with the city of Leeds to develop and deploy fleets of drones that can identify and repair basic infrastructure problems.
“Detecting faults and weaknesses early and then quickly performing smart repairs is the key,” said Rob Richardson, director of the university’s National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems. “Our robots will undertake precision repairs and avoid the need for large construction vehicles in the heart of our cities.”
The university will develop three kinds of repair drones. The first kind is drones that can cruise the streets, detecting, fixing, and even preventing potholes. The second type will be able to perch, like birds or bats, and repair things that would be out of reach to humans. The third type will run around the sewer and utility pipes, inspecting and repairing any damage they might find.
The research team was just awarded a $6.5 million (£4.2 million) grant to begin research, so its still much too early to tell when we might see the repair drones at work. Until then, we can only hope that the tweeting potholes trend continues.