Imagine a city where robots perch on a city building to identify and help fix any issues that arise such as a burst water pipe, broken street sign or pothole, without disrupting humans from their everyday routine. No, this isn't the plot for a sci-fi movie—researchers want to make this a reality.
British researchers at the University of Leeds will develop a team of autonomous robots that could make Leeds become the first "self-repairing" city by 2035.
The project is funded with $6.5 million of national funds lead by the School of Civil Engineering at Leeds University in collaboration with Leeds City Council and the U.K. Collaboration for Research in Infrastructures and Cities (UKCRIC), and will launch in January 2016.
The researchers will develop the autonomous robots with the focus on three main areas: Perch and Repair, Perceive and Patch, Fire and Forget over the course of five years.
The first team will be tasked with developing drones that can land on top of street lamps or civil structures, the second will lead research into drones that can survey roads to spot problems needing fixing, such as identifying a pothole that needs fixing before it get worse, and the final team will have their robots live in utility pipes to inspect, repair and report back when they uncover an issue.
"The idea is to create a city that behaves almost like a living organism," Raul Fuentes, a researcher at the School of Civil Engineering at Leeds University, told Motherboard. "The robots will act like white cells that are able to identify bacteria or viruses and attack them. It's kind of like an immune system."
If the fleet of robots are successful, it could benefit Leeds when it comes to efficiency and safety, although some may have concerns that the drones will take over jobs—and the city. However, the researchers said that they won't take jobs, but rather work alongside humans to make their jobs less dangerous. They have a vision that the fleet will reduce the amount of repair work that needs to be done in a timely manner and without disrupting the public.
The project will also track the environmental, social and economic impact of new technologies in Leeds.
Source: University of Leeds
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