Pothole-seeking drones could be deployed to improve the UK’s pothole-plagued roads.
A Government-supported project to identify innovative solutions to tackle potholes recommended that a trial of automated drones is launched.
The Digital Intelligence Brokerage (DIB) said a consortium of small and medium-sized enterprises could use this “cutting-edge approach” to assess the condition of highways in rural and urban areas.
It noted that consideration would need to be given to the “risks of using automated equipment on or above a live highway network”.
Other measures to recommended by the DIB include using a video app to inspect the quality of work carried out on highways, and making the shape of pothole repairs circular rather than square to avoid weak points in corners.
The DIB was tasked with collating potential solutions for Wiltshire Council, but it said the proposals could be used by “other local authorities across the UK”.
A report by trade body the Asphalt Industry Alliance published in March stated that councils in England and Wales would need to spend a total of £10 billion over a decade to bring all their roads up to scratch.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it continues to encourage research into the use of technology to combat potholes, such as through drones to spot road defects and 3D printing to repair cracks.
It also announced which English councils will receive a share of a £15 million fund to improve their traffic light systems to cut congestion, raise safety and reduce journey times and emissions.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Whether you’re a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian, every road-user across our country deserves the best possible journey.
“That’s why, despite already having some of the best and safest roads in the world, this Government is providing millions of pounds to improve them further still.
“This vital funding and work will cut journey times for millions of people, reduce emissions and keep the UK at the forefront of technological developments in roads maintenance, as we continue to invest in local economies and build back both better and greener from the pandemic.”
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “Additional investment to cut congestion and make pothole repairs better for the future is very welcome.
“Improving traffic lights can make a significant difference to local roads by efficiently maximising the number of vehicles which can safely pass through junctions, while hitting a pothole can be an expensive and even a dangerous experience, so we look forward to seeing how drivers and road users more widely can benefit from the use of 21st century technology to repair their local roads more quickly.”
But AA president Edmund King warned that improved pothole repairs will “depend on council priorities and schedules”.
He said: “Councils often prefer to wait until a road has reached a point where a large number of defects makes it cost-effective to repair it.
“One of the fundamental issues is the depth that a pothole needs to get to before anything is done about it. An ‘intervention’ depth of 40 millimetres may be barely acceptable for cars but lethal for cyclists.
“Arguably, less sophisticated reporting systems like ‘Fix My Street’ and council websites are more effective than drones because nasty defects are highlighted by the road users themselves. More should be done to advertise this type of reporting.”
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