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The plan to rid the world of potholes with a fleet of asphalt-spewing robots

Potholes are a real nuisance when you’re driving. However, thanks to a forthcoming robot created by a U.K.-based startup, the telltale signs of what can develop into these depressions in the road, caused by wear and tear or subsidence, could be spotted earlier — so that they are never allowed to develop into potentially hazardous potholes.

“We are building an advanced system converging robotics with A.I. 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,” Sebastiano Fichera, technical director for Robotiz3d, told Digital Trends. “The prediction functionality can help prioritize repair tasks, [which is] currently done based on human judgement and experience. Prediction also makes it possible for early intervention to take place, to stop cracks from evolving into potholes.”

While pointing out developing problems in the road would be useful, though, Fichera said that the robot can go one step further than this — by filling smaller cracks automatically when necessary.

Pothole robot
Robotiz3d Ltd.

Fichera painted a science fiction-sounding image of the road of the future which, with autonomous cars and sidewalk-travelling delivery robots already in operation, may be far closer than many think.

“We imagine a team of our vehicles autonomously patrolling our streets, and fixing cracks and potholes as soon as they appear,” he said. “There will be no need for road closure as the technology we are developing allows traffic-speed damages detection and quick repair. If a pothole is detected, our vehicle will stop, flag its presence, and complete the repair within a few minutes. The vehicles will be able to operate continuously for several hours at a time without recharging. 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.”

Robotiz3d is a spinout company from the University of Liverpool, where Fichera is a lecturer in aerospace engineering. He said that the company aims to have its road damage detection unit on the market in six months’ time, and the crack-filling, micro-repair unit up and running by the end of 2021.

This isn’t the first time Digital Trends has covered anti-pothole technology. A couple of years back, we wrote about a similar concept for filling in potholes, only this time using autonomous drones.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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