Leeds University researchers are creating robots and drones to help fix street lights and potholes as part of an ambitious plan to create “self-repairing cities.”
They are taking the lead in a pioneering £4.2m national research project
that aims to develop small robots which can identify problems with utility pipes, street lights and roads and fix them with minimal environmental impact and disruption to the public.
Three areas have been initially targeted for development:
“Perch and Repair” – drones that can perch, like birds, until they are needed to repair structures such as street lights.
“Perceive and Patch” - drones able to autonomously inspect, diagnose, repair and prevent potholes.
“Fire and forget” – robots which will operate permanently within live utility pipes performing inspection, repair, metering and reporting tasks.
“We want to make Leeds the first city in the world to have zero disruption from street works,” said Professor Phil Purnell, from the School of Civil Engineering, which is leading the research team.
“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 project, ‘Balancing the impact of City Infrastructure Engineering on Natural systems using Robots’, will also track the social, environmental, political and economic impact of these new technologies in the city. It is funded by a £4.2m grant from the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of £21m in funding for ‘Engineering Grand Challenges’ research, which aims to tackle some of the major challenges facing science and engineering.
The team will work with Leeds City Council and the UK Collaboration for Research in Infrastructure and Cities to ensure that the robots are thoroughly tested before being trialled in Leeds.