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Self-Repairing Cities Goal of Project

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

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A university in the United Kingdom is working to develop robots and drones that researchers hope will be able to repair city infrastructure without causing the disruption normally associated with those tasks.

The researchers at the University of Leeds recently received £4.2 million (US $6.5 million) in funding to kickstart the “Balancing the Impact of City Infrastructure Engineering on Natural Systems Using Robots” project, the university’s School of Civil Engineering announced last week. Team members will use the money to design robots that can fix potholes and inspect and fix street lights and utility pipes.

Phil Purnell, who is leading the research team, said the team’s goal is to make the City of Leeds the first in the world to have no disruption from city works projects.

By philld / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers at the University of Leeds will develop robots and drones that can inspect and repair infrastructure using the City of Leeds as a test site.

“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,” said Purnell in the university’s statement.

Focus of Design

Researchers said they will design the technology initially to focus on three areas:

  • “Perch and Repair,” which will set up drones to perch like birds so that can perform repairs on taller structures, such as street lights;
  • “Perceive and Patch,” which also will use drones to find—and then repair, as necessary—potholes in city streets; and
  • “Fire and Forget,” which will send robots into live utility pipes to inspect them and make repairs as needed.

Team members will work with Leeds City Council and the UK Collaboration for Research in Infrastructure and Cities, the university said. The collaboration will help ensure the robots are tested before being sent into Leeds for a live trial.

Social Effect

In addition to the technical side of the development, researchers said they also will track the social, environmental, political and economic effect the machines will have on the city.

“The critical part of this project is being proactive rather than reactive,” said Raul Fuentes, a professor with the 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,” said Fuentes.

© / oatjo

The university will use drones to "perch and repair" tall structures such as street lights and "perceive and patch" potholes in city streets without the disruptions normally associated with such activities.

A member of Leeds City Council told The Daily Mail that city officials are “delighted” to hear the news.

“We are very keen to explore new innovations and use the latest technologies to improve how the city runs,” said Judith Blake, the council’s leader.

Project Support

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (SPSRC) and is part of a £21 million (US $32.5 million) grant for a project called “Engineering Grand Challenges.” The program, developed in response to a call for research earlier this year, seeks to find engineering solutions to provide water for everyone; restore a balance between engineering and nature; engineer across length scales, from atoms to applications; and identify risk and building resilience into engineering systems.

In addition to team members from the School of Civil Engineering, the project will include help from the schools of Mechanical Engineering; Electronic and Electrical Engineering; and Computing. It also will receive assistance from the Faculty of Business, Faculty of Environment and the Institute for Transport Studies, the university said.

Researchers from several other universities also will work on the project. They include team members from Birmingham, Southampton, UCL, Nottingham, Sheffield, Oxford and Imperial, Leeds said in its statement.


Tagged categories: EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Infrastructure; Pipeline; Program/Project Management; Research and development; Robotics

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