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£4.2M grant for research into creating self-repairing cities

Potholes fixed by drones and utility pipes fixed by robots are just some of the ideas that have won a £4.2M grant to look at creating self-repairing cities.

The grant has been awarded to the University of Leeds for a national infrastructure research project. It was given by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of a £21m funding for ‘Engineering Grand Challenges’ research.

The Leeds University researchers will develop new technologies in three different areas. The first is called Perch and Repair, where robots such as drones can perch on structures such as street lights and perform repairs.

The Perceive and Patch area of research is to develop a drone that can autonomously inspect, diagnose, repair and prevent potholes in roads.

The third area is called Fire and Forget, where researchers will develop robots that will inspect, repair, meter and report on live utility pipes.

Professor Phil Purnell, from the univeristy’s school of civil engineering, is leading the research team. He said: “We want to make Leeds the first city in the world to have zero disruption from street works.

“We can support infrastructure which can be entirely maintained by robots and make the disruption caused by the constant digging up the road in our cities a thing of the past.”

The university’s national facility for innovative robotic systems director Rob Richardson added: “Detecting faults and weaknesses early, and then quickly performing smart repairs is the key. 

“Our robots will undertake precision repairs and avoid the need for large construction vehicles in the heart of our cities. We will use the unique capabilities of our robotic facility to make new, more capable robots.”  

The robots and drones are to be tested around Leeds.

Other projects to win finding include a £3.9M project led by University of Sheffield that will develop solutions for problems of the UK’s aging water infrastructure through areas such as robotics and chemical engineering. Major water companies are collaborating in the project including Thames Water, Northumbrian Water, Scottish and Welsh Water.

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