Drones may one day fix potholes


Volvo on pothole - flickr user comedy_nose

Volvo on pothole - flickr user comedy_nose

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Nothing ruins a spectacular piece of roadway more than cracks, bumps, and enormous potholes. These road imperfections can be more than just annoyances. They can also cost drivers and cities money in repairs for blown tires and ruined wheels. One day, drones could make the process of fixing roads much simpler for cities.

Engineers and scientists at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom have begun testing drones that could one day automatically repair city streets on the fly. Basically, one drone would spend the evening searching for cracks and other potholes in roads. Another drone would receive coordinates from the first and arrive to 3D print asphalt in the pothole's place. The Telegraph reported on Monday that some fixes could take less than one minute—a major improvement over multi-worker crews used to patch asphalt today.

The technology comes from a $6.5 million grant to the university from the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The sum is just a part of a $32.5 million grant to address "Engineering Grand Challenges." Other technologies the program hopes to birth are fixes for tall streetlights and robots to "live" inside utility pipes to perform inspections.

The program is currently three years into its research and halfway through the initial development phase for the drones. Ultimately, the drones may be the beginning of a "self-repairing" city. By 2050, technologies could take care of every piece of a city's infrastructure, or at least aid in repairs.

However, it's not exactly clear how a drone will handle enough material to fix a major pothole. The teams don't know exactly how the drone will 3D print the asphalt, either.

Yet, the technology has promise as 3D printing continues to progress. Many automakers have turned to the process to begin creating new components or reproduce obscure parts for classic cars.

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