6 Ways Robotics Could Make Roadwork Less Annoying
June 14, 2019      

Construction and development projects on roads and highways tend to be drawn out, causing distractions and congestion for travelers of the roads. Fortunately, new technologies in robotics and other areas are helping to minimize the disruption to complete necessary work faster and more efficiently.

Several companies are working on capable robots that could make roadwork much less invasive. In the U.K., for example, scientists are working on micro-robots that can be sent into pipes and sewage lines to make repairs, as opposed to tearing up everything on the surface including roadways.

These aren’t the only robots being developed to this end, however. Here are some of the other ways that robots could make roadwork much less annoying:

1. Automated equipment

An alternative to more advanced robotics is automating construction systems. In fact, much of the traditional roadwork equipment used can be automated to speed up construction times. They can be upgraded to offer truly autonomous operating modes, or they can simply work alongside human counterparts as more collaborative machinery.

It’s not necessarily about upgrading the machinery and hardware itself, but many of these tools can be outfitted with modern devices and sensors. IoT sensors, for example, would allow conventional machinery to be more aware of their surroundings.

Of course, to deploy data-driven machinery it will require an infrastructure boost, as well. Engineers and workers will need to be able to remotely monitor the equipment, deliver commands and even assess or measure progress.

2. Less Disruptive Excavation

A key step in most construction projects — especially when it comes to roadwork and development — involves excavating the project site. It helps create a strong foundation for the roadway and other developments, and it also allows for runoff and drainage in most areas.

But excavation isn’t always done for the roadwork itself. When teams are replacing distribution or utility mains, working on underground infrastructure, or even dealing with power lines, the surrounding area must be excavated. When that area includes a roadway or access point, unfortunately, it too must be uprooted. This can cause quite the headache, resulting in traffic and congestion, commute delays and sometimes even detours or road closures.

Modern robotics, however, can be used to mitigate these problems. A team from ULC Robotics has developed an innovative excavation system that replaces conventional methods and improves the entire process. These machines take up less space in the street, enhancing safety and minimizing disruptions. They’re also more efficient and work faster so projects are completed with minimal delays.

Since excavation is a crucial step in any development project, ULC’s efficient robots could have sweeping implications for the world at large.

3. Faster road repairs

Roadwork doesn’t always mean completely rebuilding the asphalt, surrounding foundation, or nearby developments. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of patching up potholes, fixing cracks or broken areas, or simply improving upon existing infrastructure. Widening roadways, for example, is a common occurrence in developing regions or cities.

But like anything else, road repairs and upgrades can cause just as many problems.

Luckily, Addibots are being developed and tested to deal with this issue, particularly when it comes to filling cracks and potholes. Essentially, an Addibot is a moving robot equipped with a 3D printer. While the system currently helps resurface ice, the system is being modified to use additive manufacturing methods to repair and fill road holes in a short amount of time.

This offers several benefits, including low-cost operations, better and cheaper material use, and automated processes — no workers are involved, which keeps them safer. More importantly, the Addibots doesn’t replace workers, but instead work collaboratively alongside them, speeding up their duties.

Any way you pave it, faster and more efficient road repairs are better for everyone.

4. Better problem reporting

Sometimes, issues are less visible to road crews and decision makers. You might have a dangerous intersection, for example, that is never on the radar until a major event happens. This isn’t necessarily because the appropriate parties are not paying attention, but more because there’s so much to consider and so much going on that improvements or changes tend to fall by the wayside.

But what if road crews had a better way to survey various areas?

Help in the form of commercial drones is coming, allowing for a birds-eye view of the goings-on. They can be used to spot congestion and assess traffic concerns. They can also be used to survey and identify road issues like major potholes, cracks or even future events. A road that’s prone to damage will often show certain signs, many of which can be gleaned from above.

Alternatively, they can even be used to monitor underground infrastructure, a lot of which runs under our roadways and highways. Smaller, ground-moving drones can move through pipes and drainage lines to identify leaks, warping and more.

The best part is that all of these assessments can be carried out with minimal impact and distraction upon the average driver. A drone flying overhead or moving along underground has no effect on drivers traveling a road.

5. Creating new roads

Current applications aside, what if robots could be used to construct entirely new roads? What if they could excavate, lay new infrastructure and mainlines, handle the underpinning and then pave over it all with absolutely no human input? It seems just a little advanced at this point, but the reality is that we’re closer than we’ve ever been to such a scenario.

There may not be any instances of this happening just yet, but robots are being used for more practical situations currently. SAM — short for Semi-Automated Mason — is a brick-laying robot, for instance, that can place up to 3,000 bricks over the course of an eight-hour shift. It works much faster than the average human laborer.

If we can design and develop a robot to lay bricks, we can certainly produce one that develops new roads.

6. Automated traffic control and management

Finally, there’s the disruption of traffic itself. For road projects, certain roadways, intersections and areas need to be modified or closed off entirely. This causes quite the stir in terms of routine traffic flow, leading to heavy congestion and sometimes accidents.

The conventional way to deal with this is to put up static road signs, and with crews or police officers having to direct traffic for open lanes. It works, but it’s a crude method for dealing with several of these issues.

What if robots could handle this, and more effectively? What if they can be used to accurately assess and design a new traffic flow to mitigate potential problems? That’s actually possible with the help of big data and analytics platforms. By factoring in the current movement of traffic, and combining that with predictive modeling, these systems can better direct and guide drivers and pedestrians to mitigate congestion or worse.

Construction is evolving

Doesn’t it seem strange that in such a technologically advanced world — where we essentially carry supercomputers in our pocket and our homes have automated systems throughout — most construction processes haven’t changed all that much? Roadwork projects, specifically, still use a lot of archaic and conventional processes that could do with an upgrade or two.

The good news is that many commercial development and construction industries are changing, and the modern state of roadwork is a big part of that. It won’t be long before advanced robotics are handling a lot of the tedious, grueling work that used to be relegated to human laborers.

More importantly, these systems can work faster and more effectively to help mitigate the impact on your average driver. In other words, roadwork is about to get a whole lot less annoying.