You’ve heard of smart cities, but what about self-healing cities?
The UK is undertaking a project to make cities self-repairing and free from street work disruption by 2050. Leeds spearheads this endeavor, hoping to be the first self-healing city by 2035. Such smart cities will run on droids, robots and sensors that will diagnose and repair infrastructure autonomously. The project separates repair machines into three categories:
Perch and Repair
Drones will “perch” like birds atop tall structures such as streetlights. When a problem with the structure is detected, they will leave their perch to repair it and then return.
Perceive and Patch
These drones will scan roads and detect holes or cracks that could develop into potholes. The drone will repair the defect, preventing it from growing into a larger problem that would require a street crew to fix. The drone will 3D print the asphalt, a process that makes the material tougher than traditional casting. Other robots will be designed to inspect and repair different infrastructure, like bridges.
Fire and Forget
Robots will be activated and left inside utility pipes to autonomously inspect, repair, meter and report tasks. The project is prototyping a wireless recharging gas pipe robot that can currently only perform inspections.
Drone Impact: Humans and Wildlife
These robots, once complete, are expected to cut down on manual repairs that would normally cause road congestion by blocking off streets and diverting traffic. Drones and sensors also have the capacity to detect issues before a human visibly would, cutting repair costs and down time. The project hopes to increase the happiness and wellbeing of citizens due to the lack of disruption to their daily lives.
The project questions the effect of robots on wildlife and makes a commitment to study such impact. There is currently little research on topic, though it appears technology has the potential to cause great good or great harm, and it is all dependent on responsible use.
Improving City Operations with Robots and Drones
The Self Repairing Cities midterm report divides robots into additional categories for improving city operations.
Construct and Confirm
Using drones and autonomous vehicles to improve the efficiency and safety of heavy machinery construction efforts through virtual guidance.
Dismantle and Dispose
Using drones and robots to dismantle obsolete infrastructure, collect debris and dispose as appropriate for trash or recycling. Such robots could improve the quality of city-wide recycling efforts and drastically reduce construction waste.