UK looks at drones, 3D printing to fix its dimpled roads

roads potholes drones

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) is launching a multimillion-pound initiative to improve local roads across England. Among other things, this program aims to explore the use of drones and 3D printing technology when it comes to finding and fixing potholes.

According to a bunch of measures announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, new and innovative technology such as drones and 3D printing will take center stage in helping England to perk up its dimpled roads that many have likened to the surface of the moon.  

The condition is so bad that councils in England and Wales had to fill up 1.7 million potholes in the financial year 2020-21 alone – which is equal to one being fixed every 19 seconds. So now, a red-faced government is committing funds to use advanced technology, such as drones to spot defects in roads and 3D printing to repair cracks. As Shapps explains:

Whether you’re a motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian, every road user across our country deserves the best possible journey. That’s why, despite already having some of the best and safest roads in the world, this government is providing millions of pounds to improve them further still.

Autonomous drones to inspect roads and locate potholes

The use of autonomous drones for road inspections was first suggested by the Dft-backed Digital Intelligent Brokerage (DIB) hub – an initiative that was launched to accelerate the benefits of research and development in addressing the potholes challenge.

DIB recommends that drones can be used in both urban and rural locations to assess conditions on the road for defects such as potholes. Key features would include an autonomous mission management software that would control the drones without the need for a competent pilot (addressing challenges around safety and skills constraints) and would leverage predictive analytics and statistical analysis capabilities on the data collected.

DfT seeks to work with small and medium enterprises outside of the transport sector to facilitate this plan. A DIB report reads:

The automated drone technology may be trialed as a standalone piece of work or alternatively linked into the Digital Twin proposed theme to provide a two-way flow of data. There may be value in combining [this technology] with another DIB respondent who can take the processed data and feed this into their advanced decision support tool that not only supports lifecycle planning from a financial and asset performance perspective but also provides an understanding of social performance impacts.

This includes availability and disturbance (travel time and vehicle operating costs), road safety (fatal and severe accidents related to asset condition), environment (noise, air pollution, and natural resources), and socio-economic (asset value and wider social effects).

We’ll see how the UK’s plans pan out but they are certainly more promising than what Mexico is doing:

Read more: In a European first, DJI drone inspects Airbus A330 aircraft outdoors

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