Within the UK, researchers are persevering with their efforts to develop autonomous automobiles to restore potholes

Artist’s impression of the ARRES (Autonomous Road Repair System) model from Robotiz3d.

© Robotiz3d

In addition to being a thorn in the side and a general nuisance, potholes are potentially dangerous: they can damage vehicles, cause accidents, and affect everyone from automobiles to cyclists and pedestrians.

Given that repairing potholes – and roads in general – can be a time-consuming, labor-intensive, and costly process, innovation and technology could play an important role in the years to come.

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

Robotiz3d Ltd’s overall goal is to use artificial intelligence and robotics to improve how problems such as cracks and potholes on roads are detected and then corrected.

Going forward, the company – a joint venture established by the university in collaboration with A2e Ltd – will seek to develop its Autonomous Road Repair System (ARRES).

Paolo Paoletti from the School of Engineering at the University of Liverpool will become Chief Technology Officer at Robotiz3d.

In a statement released along with the university’s announcement, he said, “The proposed system will be able to autonomously identify and characterize road defects such as cracks and potholes, assess and predict the severity of such defects and cracks fix them so they don’t develop potholes. “

The ideas developed by the Robotiz3d team are an example of how technology is used to address issues related to road maintenance and other types of traffic-related infrastructure.

Other research includes the Self-Repairing Cities project, funded by the Research Council for Engineering and Physical Sciences.

Part of this initiative, which includes the University of Leeds, University College London, the University of Southampton and the University of Birmingham, looks at the use of drones to monitor and then repair cracks on roads using asphalt 3D -Printers.

Both of the above projects are interesting because they appear to propose “all-in-one” solutions that can be used to identify problems related to road conditions and then fix them before they become serious. This could help reduce both operating costs and the time it takes to make repairs.

There is clear potential for autonomous technology, but challenges remain

By and large, the role of autonomous technologies in the general maintenance of roads and other infrastructure critical to cities presents both opportunities and challenges.

Alain Dunoyer is Head of Autonomous Technology Research & Consulting at SBD Automotive. In comments emailed to CNBC, he noted that while there are restrictions on the use of autonomous vehicles to monitor and maintain roads, these are not technology-related.

“Most new cars already have the right hardware to monitor road conditions. All you need is a front camera and GPS location, assuming you have the right vision software,” he added, explaining that “over the crowd this will be very powerful could “procurement. “

“The only thing missing is the disclosure of this information and, unfortunately, a business case,” said Dunoyer, explaining that the local authorities “did not have enough money to carry out basic road maintenance”.

“Local authorities are unlikely to be told where the potholes are as problems with road conditions are not due to a lack of knowledge but rather to a lack of funding,” he added.

Reducing the cost of these repairs through autonomous technology “would be extremely difficult,” said Dunoyer.

If the price could be brought down and funding found, repairs could be made to items such as damaged road signs, water leaks, telegraph poles, and traffic lights.

“If local authorities, water management companies and telecommunications companies could benefit from it, a business case could possibly be found,” he said.

Back to basics

While technology will clearly play a role in both the present and the future, not all ideas related to road maintenance are so complex.

Relatively simple solutions include the UK-based trial of large, brightly colored airbags to prevent vehicles from entering stretches of road where work is being carried out.

The colorful airbags can be inflated in less than 10 minutes and have a large “STOP” sign in the middle.

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