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Urban and exploratory robots looking after our past and future

Apr 12 2018

Robotics is an area of technology that is becoming more prevalent in our lives year upon year. You would only need to go back a few decades and most people’s opinion would be that owning your own robot or seeing one in a public space would be reserved for a Star Wars film or an Isaac Asimov novel. Zoom forward to 2018 and having a robotic hoover clean your house is not an uncommon sight, and we are discussing the dawn of driverless vehicles on our roads. If the Self Repairing Cities project is anything to go by, it will not be too long before it will be commonplace to see drones, buggies and smaller robots in and around our cities.

The University of Leeds, leading partner on Self Repairing Cities, has been developing robots for infrastructure applications as part of the project. There are already a number of developments with promising future, for example, a drone with the potential of printing asphalt into pot holes and tarmac cracks (developed with UCL) and robots designed to recharge wirelessly for moving through underground pipe systems.

Robotics projects at Leeds, however, are not only aimed at developing robots to perform tasks in our towns and cities. For example, a number of robots developed within the same group have applications in archaeology. The Djedi robot was created to explore a shaft in the Great Pyramid in Giza and was fitted with a number of tools to help navigate and view its surroundings. There are also robots and drones being developed to search unexplored areas that are inaccessible to humans and larger robots. A number of these, as well as the ones directly linked to Self Repairing Cities, can be found on the urban and exploratory robots page.

While these robots may have been designed for different applications, there are many common facets. A robot working in a city environment must be safe when near members of the public. This means the robot needs to either be able to avoid people and fragile objects, or be able to safely interact with them. These robots are often controlled by a trained professional but can, in some cases, be unmanned and able to navigate an area using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR). Similar strategies are important for archaeology, where damage to the age old environment could potentially ruin the mission. Djedi was remote controlled and had a flexible camera arm but also used a movement mechanism specifically designed to cause minimum damage.

This is not the only way technologies may have common threads across an array of different applications. A Self-Repairing Cities robot may need to travel over an uneven surface or up public stairways. This is an ability shared with search and rescue robots, as well as many agricultural based robots. Additionally, a robot may need to interact with the environment, like the litter picking robot being developed as part of the project. Similar technology may need to be implemented on a robot picking fruit in an orchard or working in a warehouse. By exploring the synergies between the work on Self Repairing Cities and other ongoing robotics projects at Leeds, there is the opportunity for advances to be shared and new applications developed that have a wider reach than originally envisaged.

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