UK's Self-Repairing Cities

British engineers are determined to create self-repairing cities using (what else?) drones. The intent is that small flying robots will notice and repair everything; potholes, streetlights and utility pipes.

The University of Leeds recently won 4.2 million pound grant (about $6.5 million USD) from the U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to create a national infrastructure for so-called “self-repairing cities..."

The team, led by civil engineer Phil Purnell and including researchers from University College London and the Universities of Birmingham and Southampton, is currently working on three drone designs. One set of robots will be responsible for “perch and repair,” meaning they will perch, like birds, on tall structures and make small repairs to things like streetlights. The “perceive and patch” robots will not only automatically inspect, diagnose, and repair potholes in the road, but will also prevent future ones from forming. And “fire and forget” drones will monitor and repair utility pipes as needed.

The advantage? Using drones means that problems can be detected and fixed early on, so the city won’t have to perform large and disruptive repairs down the line. “Most of what we’re proposing is for the drones to do very simple and mundane tasks,” Purnell says. “When you look at major infrastructure failures—things like potholes or failures in pipe lines—they’re often caused by very small, millimeter-scale defects. And if those were caught early by an automated system, then the larger failures and inconveniences wouldn’t occur.”

Yes, you'd hate for "inconveniences to occur". My only caveat about this shiny sfnal future is that it seems to so often go bad. I think one of the earliest mentions of a city that takes care of itself is the machine city from science fiction legend John W. Campbell's 1934 story Twilight:

The city was divided into two sections, a section of many strata where machines functioned smoothly, save for a deep humming beat that echoed through the whole city like a vast unending song of power.

Seven or even seventy million years don't mean much to old Mother Earth. She may even succeed in wearing down those marvelous machine cities...

When the builders made those cities, they forgot one thing. They didn't realize that things shouldn't go on forever.

That's fine, as far as it goes. But in Robert Silverberg's The Man in the Maze, the city actually defends itself against invaders with horrific traps; Ray Bradbury refers to cities that not only kill invaders but also clean up after themselves.

Fans of Stanislaw Lem might recall the idea of repair robots in his wonderful 1954 novel The Invincible:

Faint rattling noises came from inside the hull as if swarms of tiny animals were busily scurrying about scratching the metal walls with their sharp little claws. This was the sign that the repair robots had started out on their rounds, checking the solidity of the braces of the ship's framework; making sure that the hull had not been damaged anywhere and that all seams were still welded tight.
(Read more about Stanislaw Lem's repair robots)

See this story about self-contained Russian lighthouses, as well as this article on the Bridge-MINDER Repair Robot

Via CityLab.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/16/2015)

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