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In the UK, researchers are developing self-driving cars to repair roads

The artist’s impression of Robotiz3d’s ARRES model (autonomous road restoration system).

© Robotiz 3d

Potholes are not only annoying and common annoyance, but also potentially dangerous. Potholes can damage vehicles, cause accidents, and affect everyone from car drivers to cyclists and pedestrians.

Areas where innovation and technology can play an important role in the coming years, given that pothole repair (and roads in general) can be a time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly process. is.

Just last week, the University of Liverpool announced that it had set up a spin-out to focus on the commercialization of research related to road defects.

Robotiz3d Ltd’s broad goal is, as is known, to improve the way it uses artificial intelligence and robotics to detect and fix problems such as road cracks and pits.

In the future, the company, a joint venture established by the university in partnership with A2e Ltd, is considering the development of an autonomous road repair system (ARRES).

Paolo Paoletti of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Liverpool will be Chief Technology Officer of Robotiz 3d.

In a statement issued with the university announcement, he said: “The proposed system can autonomously detect and characterize road defects such as cracks and holes, evaluate and predict the severity of such defects, and fix them to prevent them from developing. . Rhagades. “

The idea developed by the Robotiz3d team is an example of how technology is being used to address issues related to the maintenance of roads and other types of transportation-related infrastructure.

Other studies include the “Self-Repair City” project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

One element of this initiative involving the University of Leeds, University College London, University of Southampton, and University of Birmingham is considering the use of drones to monitor and repair road cracks using asphalt 3D printers. ..

Both of the above projects are interesting because they propose what appears to be an “all-in-one” solution that identifies and repairs road condition-related problems before they become serious. This reduces both operational costs and repair time.

The potential for autonomous technology is clear, but challenges remain

The big picture shows that the role of autonomous technology in the general maintenance of roads and other infrastructure that is important to towns and cities presents both opportunities and challenges.

Alain Dunoyer is responsible for Automotive Technology Research & Consulting at SBD Automotive. In a comment sent to CNBC by email, he said that although there are restrictions facing the deployment of self-driving cars to investigate and maintain roads, these have nothing to do with technology.

“Given the right image processing software, all you need is a front-mounted camera and GPS location, so most new cars already have the right hardware to investigate road conditions,” he adds. “It can be very powerful through the cloud,” he said. sourcing. “

“The only thing we’re missing is sharing this information and, unfortunately, our business case,” Dunoyer said. I explained.

“It would be useless to tell the local government where the potholes are, because the problem with road conditions is not due to lack of knowledge, but due to lack of funding,” he added.

Reducing the cost of these repairs with autonomous technology “will be very difficult,” Dunoyer said.

If you can lower the price and raise money, you can work on repairing everything from damaged road signs to leaks, utility poles and traffic lights.

“If local governments, water management companies, and telecommunications companies can all benefit, we’ll probably find a business case,” he said.

Go back to the basics

Technology clearly has a role to play both now and in the future, but not all ideas related to road maintenance are so complex.

A relatively simple solution includes testing a large, light-colored airbag based in the United Kingdom to prevent vehicles from driving on the section of the road where work is taking place.

The brightly colored airbag can be inflated within 10 minutes and has a large “pause” sign in the center.

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