Not all drivers have to worry about potholes. Those living in mild climates without much freezing typically enjoy smooth roads. However, anyone living in places with harsh winters knows that potholes are a major nuisance. In some cases, they can even be dangerous.
Dealing with potholes is a major undertaking for city governments with budgets that are already stretched thin. A startup called Robotiz3d believes there is a better way.
It is working on autonomous robots that roam the streets, identifying and repairing potholes and cracks as they go. It could save a ton of money by catching road issues before they become serious hazards.
Robotiz3d stems from the University of Liverpool in the U.K. Its technical director, Sebastiano Fichera, is an aerospace engineering professor at the university. The startup revolves around the idea of using autonomous robots to constantly scan the roads and catch problems before they get worse.
Fichera says, “We are building an advanced system converging robotics with AI technology, to help automatically identify, characterize, and measure potholes on the go, while using a mathematical model to predict the evolution of the defects found, particularly cracks.”
It’s unclear what hardware the system uses. However, it is likely some combination of a camera array, self-driving sensors, and a powerful AI processor. Currently, the robot’s prediction capabilities make it possible for human road workers to prioritize tasks and make the necessary repairs. It is designed to prevent cracks from developing into potholes—which are a bigger nuisance and a more costly problem to fix.
For now, Robotiz3d’s system focuses on scanning the roads to identify problem areas. In the days to come, that role will expand dramatically.
“We imagine a team of our vehicles autonomously patrolling our streets, and fixing cracks and potholes as soon as they appear,” Fichera says.
He goes on to note that the process won’t require lengthy road closures. The scanning portion takes place at the speed of traffic as the autonomous robots roll along the road with other cars. Fichera says, “If a pothole is detected, our vehicle will stop, flag its presence, and complete the repair within a few minutes.”
Moreover, he notes that the autonomous vehicles will be able to operate for several hours without needing a charge. That gives them the ability to cover large areas with ease.
Although this process is novel, there is one thing that stands in the way of its widespread adoption—cost. Fortunately, Robotiz3d has a solution. “Our road condition assessment technology can also be integrated in existing vehicles such as bin collectors and taxis, so that a continuous stream of data is available to support decisions by road managers,” Fichera notes. That would make adopting the system much easier for many cities around the world.
Speaking of, it might happen sooner than most people would expect. The startup is planning to have its damage detection units on the market in just six months. Meanwhile, the version that can autonomously repair cracks is likely to arrive by the end of 2021. That is a testament to how far autonomous vehicle technology has come.
The Robotiz3d system could do wonders for the pothole-ridden roads that plague much of the U.S.