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Fully autonomous street crawlers could make potholes thing of the past

Export Import Consultant

Whether you’re on a bike or in a car, potholes are a problem. Maintenance is costly and labor intensive, but authorities in the UK have successfully tested an autonomous machine designed to detect and seal surface cracks that can grow into potholes – which could save time and money.

Following four years of research from the University of Liverpool’s School of Engineering, a spin-out company was launched in 2020 to develop an AI-driven robotic maintenance system that could autonomously detect and repair potholes and cracks in roads. The project was awarded funding from the UK government’s Innovate UK agency in 2021.

Robotiz3d is developing three technologies as part of its Autonomous Road Repair System (ARRES). ARRES Eye was launched last year, and is designed to be installed on vehicles like buses, refuse trucks and maintenance vehicles. As they travel through city or urban environs, the system looks for signs of surface problems on roadways, determines their severity and sorts them into task priority before logging the results on a central database.

The ARRES Prevent setup combines this AI-powered road survey tech with an unmanned robo vehicle that’s able to spot small cracks in surfaces and also seal them to prevent potholes from forming due to rain and frost. The company hasn’t revealed too much information on the solution, which follows a similar line to Georgia Tech Research Institute’s proof of concept from 2012, but we do know that the electric vehicle is about the size of a small van, and can go on patrol day or night.

The ARRES Prevent prototype has aced its first trial on public roads in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire
The ARRES Prevent prototype has aced its first trial on public roads in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire County Council

It features autonomous driving technologies to navigate the streets on its own or can be piloted by a remote human operative. Records of repairs are kept for quality control purposes, and real-time job data can be viewed onscreen back at base. A prototype of this system – which looks like it’s torn some pages from the Cybertruck design playbook – has successfully completed its first live trial in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, UK.

“This innovative technology has the potential to transform how we perform road maintenance and enhance the driver experience across Hertfordshire and beyond,” said Technology and Decarbonisation Minister, Anthony Browne MP. “It is said a stitch in time saves nine, and that prevention is better than cure – and likewise stopping cracks from growing into potholes could save a lot of future maintenance work.”

Further tests of the autonomous road crew will help refine the system ahead of full production, and inform the development of Robotiz3d’s third solution – a larger machine called the ARRES Ultra that will be able to deal with larger repairs of both surface cracks and fully grown potholes, including site preparation, filling in the problem areas and then compacting the surface for a smooth finish. The video below has more.

World’s first pothole preventing robot

Sources: Robotiz3d, Hertfordshire County Council

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