Research into robots that can repair roads shortlisted for prestigious award

Robots that 3D-print asphalt into cracks in roads, before they become potholes, could radically change the way streets are repaired and increase quality of life for future citizens.

The technology, developed by Dr Bilal Kaddouh and colleagues in Electrical, Mechanical and Civil Engineering, aims to develop the way roads are repaired using a technology that locates and repairs holes and defects in the road surface.

Their work, part of the Self Repairing Cities programme, has been shortlisted at the New Civil Engineer magazine’s TechFest Awards, which recognises researchers who are developing potentially game-changing innovations, technologies or applications.

Dr Kaddouh said: “Our research and the technology we’re developing is a potential long-term solution to reducing the frustration of road closures, uneven road surfaces and badly patched potholes, so I’m pleased it has been recognised at this relatively early stage.

“By showing a wider audience through the awards and New Civil Engineer magazine the importance of what we’re doing, hopefully, people will see the benefits of long-term well supported University research.”

Our research and the technology we’re developing is a potential long-term solution to reducing the frustration of road closures, uneven road surfaces and badly patched potholes...

The project is designed to repair cracks that lead to potholes as a result of asphalt degrading over time. This will reduce problems that everyday commuters face, such as the potholes themselves and their subsequent road closures for maintenance and repair.

Potholes

Cracks caused by asphault degrading over time can lead to potholes - and road closure and repair costs are estimated to be around £1bn in the UK

Self-repairing cities

The project will be incorporated into real industrial practice to better cities for everyone

Quality of life is critically dependent on infrastructure systems that provide essential resources such as water, gas, electricity, and transport.

The robotic technology could increase the life of roads and reduce costs of road closures to carry out repairs, which are estimated to be around £1bn annually in the UK.

It was selected as a finalist in the ‘Research Development: Creating the future’ category for the TechFest Awards, which will be announced on 19 September.

The Self Repairing Cities programme is part of the EPSRC Grand Challenge: Balancing the Impact of City Infrastructure Engineering on Natural Systems using Robots.

Robots for resilient infrastructure

Dr Kaddouh and his colleagues are developing drones which can identify cracks in road surfaces and 3D-print asphalt into them before they become potholes. Eventually, this will reduce road closures, risks to operators, and costs incurred by commuters.

At the moment, the drone-mounted 3D-printing technology has been tested in a laboratory, and the mechanical properties of 3D-printed asphalt have been studied and compared to cast asphalt.

Next, its design will be refined to allow finer prints, optimising the asphalt-filling method.

Ultimately, it will be incorporated into real industrial practice to better cities for everyone.

In the future, it will contribute towards a vision of a city in 2050 where infrastructure is both autonomously maintained and dynamically responsive.

Further information

University of Leeds’ collaborative project to create Self Repairing Cities is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The project aims to tackle the Grand Challenge of Zero disruption from street-works in UK cities by 2050 by developing robots that will identify, diagnose and repair street-works through minimally invasive techniques.

Related articles

Faculty of Engineering - University project is developing tarmac 3D printing robots to repair roads

Digital Trends - In the future, potholes could be repaired by asphalt-printing drones

Faculty of Engineering - How infrastructure robots can keep countries efficient

The Star Online - Drones pave the way forward in fight against potholes

Derbyshire Live - Drones fitted with Derbyshire firm’s 3D printers could help solve UK pothole problem

Ship Technology - Send in the drones: solving inspection and repair challenges at sea

ITV News - Scientists in Leeds develop robot that can repair potholes

BBC News - Potholes 'could be prevented' by road-repairing drone

Drone Below - Drones for Road Repairs via Leeds Uni and EPSRC