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Researchers Develop Autonomous 3D Printing Drones to Fix Potholes



Researchers Develop Autonomous 3D Printing Drones to Fix Potholes

Researchers Develop Autonomous 3D Printing Drones to Fix Potholes


The problems of road maintenance may be solved in the future, thanks to the use of this new invention from the University of Leeds.

It’s a flying drone equipped with an asphalt extruder, able to constantly monitor the state of the roads and intervene while potholes are still small.

A team of researchers, led by the teacher of Materials and Structures Phil Purnell, has in fact developed a hybrid drone, that is able to walk and fly and is equipped with a small 3D printer of asphalt, that was in turn developed by researchers of the University College of London.

When he first commenced the project in 2015, Purnell stated, “We want to make Leeds the first city in the world to have zero disruption from street works.”

And now they well might.

As part of the innovative “Self Repairing Cities” project, the idea is to have teams of these drones running through the streets of the cities, monitoring the roads’ status through video cameras equipped with image recognition algorithms.

When damage to the roads is identified, the drones can then intervene in such a timely manner, avoiding further damage to the road’s surface.

At first impression is of a huge economic and technological effort to solve a relatively simple problem, such as using a diamond to plug a hole.

In reality, Purnell explains, in the medium term the system would be advantageous. “When we think of infrastructural maintenance we are used to thinking of solutions that move on the scale of meters and tons, when instead many problems to their birth are located in that of centimeters and grams”.

A much smaller hole is far easier to solve with a small drone and a few grams of 3D printed asphalt at the moment, rather than mobilizing an entire team of labourers and expensive machinery to plug dozens of large holes.

The first experimental results were excellent but as often happens with academic research, the implementation of this solution is not around the corner.

“It was a question of demonstrating how it is possible to keep all the pieces of this puzzle together. We are academics, our job is to look for conceptual approaches to problems. Interacting with the industrial world then someone will be able to implement those solutions,” concludes Purnell.

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Cite this article as: Sarah Whittaker, "Researchers Develop Autonomous 3D Printing Drones to Fix Potholes," in, June 25, 2018,

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