“Our idea is that when these small cracks happen we want to be able to see them – a drone flying around the road network would see them – and another drone would land and repair them,” he said.
Pothole robots that work though the night to fix roads are to be tested on British streets.
The drone-mounted devices will scan roads looking for small cracks. They will be able to fly or “crawl” to the cracks and 3D print asphalt to fix them in less than a minute.
The robots will be tested on roads in the next few years as part of a drive to create “self-repairing cities”.
Experts from UCL and Leeds University, who are developing the technology, said that the gadgets could work at night, resulting in minimal disruption to traffic.
The team is currently halfway through a five-year plan which will end in testing the devices on the streets of Leeds.
Professor Mark Miodownik from UCL said Leeds City Council was working with a team from several universities to pioneer “self-repairing cities”.
He told the Cheltenham Science Festival that Britain’s road network was falling apart due the backlog of repairs and the authorities did not have the resources to take preventative measures.
“You do it at night and we can do it in about a minute. You stop over the crack, you repair the crack and it’s done.
“For motorways it is a different problem but for roads in Cheltenham and bigger cities, I think night-time autonomous vehicles would have almost no impact on traffic.
“This is going to be a big future for us all. What is immediately possible now for ‘self-repairing cities’ is an exciting prospect in all of our lives.”
“This is probably become a reality. There are all sorts of ethical and moral issues in putting robots in a city environment.
“Unless the public and policy-makers are involved right at the beginning of this technology, which is now, the chances of it advancing to the point where they feel excluded or we can see a future that no-one really wants is high.”
His colleague Professor Philip Purnell of Leeds University said that the project was examining the “social and economic” impact of having road repairs done by robots instead of humans.
“This is not just a science project. It’s a social and economic project” he said.
“We’re not just making the technology and then thinking of the effects afterwards. We already did that with mobile phones.”