English Researchers Develop Pothole Repair Drone Using Mounted 3D Printer

Researchers are keen on making road repairs quicker, cheaper, and more practical. This hybrid drone certainly seems promising.

University of Leeds

As drones become increasingly autonomous, researchers and engineers are finding new ways to let unmanned aerial vehicles manage menial tasks that are usually relegated to crews of workers and valuable time being lost in the process. For researchers at the University of Leeds and University College London, the focus is on slowly but surely kickstarting drone-infused smart-cities with UAVs that could repair roads efficiently, saving time, cost, and the efforts of manual labor.

According to Digital Trends, the six-rotor hybrid aerial-ground UAV whirs above roads while aerially scanning for potential repairmen opportunities using its onboard camera. If a pothole is detected, the drone lands above, making sure the mounted asphalt extruder is directly atop the crevice in need of filling, and releases material such as asphalt with one-millimeter accuracy. On top of that, the prototype not only repairs roads and leaves potholes smoothed over, but improves on the surrounding asphalt, as well.

“This actually disperses other chemicals into the road around it, which helps it rejuvenate itself,” said Jake Smith, Ph.D. student at the University of Leeds. “It kind of helps roads last even longer than they already did. The bigger picture is all about smart cities controlled by developed robots that can intertwine with the city and actually help out with current tasks.”

Smith adds that road repairs are a gigantic hassle for those tasked to fix them and for everybody who has to find detours to bypass the closed down streets. When drone technology becomes so sophisticated and affordable that we, as a society, can reconfigure how to approach these everyday issues with autonomous tech, it’d seem like a waste not to pay attention. 

“So we had the idea that you basically close down a road for maybe a couple of hours, our drone flies in, it’ll scan any potholes and kind of get the orientation of the indent, and then once they’ve got the information they then use an extruder to pour repair material,” said Smith. “So asphalt, or tar, or any of that, into the hole and you get a nice, smooth, repaired surface.”

As far as creative drone application goes, Smith’s endeavor here is certainly impressive. Industries ranging from agriculture to construction are steadily being affected by the implementation of UAV technologies that are shifting methodologies from the conventional to newer, autonomous, drone-age approaches that simply make sense. How soon this particular technique will actually be implemented remains to be seen, but it’ll likely take a while for construction entities to hop on this seemingly-niche pothole bandwagon. It seems inevitable, however, that our cities will, indeed, get smarter, once we refine autonomous tech like this and actually give it a chance.