Balancing the impact of City Infrastructure Engineering on Natural systems using Robots

Our vision is that of a city where infrastructure is autonomously maintained and dynamically responsive, focused on: securing the health & wellbeing of its citizens; contributing to flourishing and sustainable natural systems in the city; and creating positive economic and societal outlooks. Towards our vision we will tackle the Grand Challenge of: Zero disruption from Streetworks in UK Cities by 2050.

Our strongly interdisciplinary team aspires to fulfil our Grand Challenge through pioneering scientific research (and research methods) into: autonomous systems for minimally invasive infrastructure sensing, diagnosis and repair; development of advanced robots for deployment in complex live city environments; and the socio-technical intricacy of the robot - human - natural systems interfaces.

We will develop pioneering robot designs, technical implementations and socio-economic impact cases linked to specific application requirements, starting with three case-study systems: o "Perch and Repair" remote maintenance and modernisation of lighting columns to promote their use as multifunctional platforms for city communication nodes; o "Perceive and Patch" Swarms of flying vehicles for autonomous inspection, diagnostics, repair and prevention of highway defects (e.g. potholes); o "Fire and forget" hybrid robots designed to operate indefinitely within live utility pipes performing inspection, repair, metering and reporting tasks.


The potential societal benefits of this proposal range from reduced risk to operators and the public in the street, lowered resource consumption (hence increased resource security), enhanced wellbeing in times of austerity and constantly adapting systems to deliver resilience in a dynamic world. It has the potential to turn the Smart Cities concept from a reactive one of determining condition assessment through built-in sensing technologies, to one of city infrastructure as a proactive automated self-repairing system.

We propose an advanced vision for Future Cities equipped to not just cope, but thrive under the stresses placed on them owing to population increase and climate change. Impacts include:

Societal impact:

  1. The systems developed within this work will enable people within cities to live more harmoniously with nature through reduced energy use and waste from infrastructure maintenance
  2. Risk to workers will decrease, resulting in less injuries and deaths
  3. Health will increase due to less pollution and thriving bio-diverse cities that have been demonstrated to improve the health of people
  4. Happiness will improve though reduce transport delays and improved bio-diversity
  5. People will be required to undertake less "dull and dirty" manual labour work thereby providing greater job satisfaction

The knowledge base:

  1. New and innovative approaches to the design, fabrication and integration of robotic systems will position the UK at the forefront of the global knowledge base in the fields of robotics & mechatronics
  2. Advances in 3D printing techniques will provide knowledge and techniques to impact across the fields of Mechanical, Electrical and Material Science
  3. Dissemination of the knowledge and techniques worldwide will increase the global knowledge base and impact upon global technological advances

Impact upon people and skills:

  1. Education - The techniques and methods established in this research will feed through into postgraduate and undergraduate courses in the form of case studies and projects as well as to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
  2. As a result of a direct engagement in the project, 9 PDRAs and seven PhD students will gain experience of multidisciplinary research where end users, national research centres, and industry are all involved. This provides a unique opportunity for training and they will gain considerable benefit from this
  3. Future generations will be inspired and the general public will gain a better understanding of research, and specifically the techniques developed here, through outreach events, and online access to materials and experiments

Economic impact:

  1. Cities will prosper financially through better transport connectivity and less transport disruption
  2. The technologies developed will generate significant intellectual property (IP) that will impact upon the UK competitiveness
  3. New robotic products and procedures will be generated that will directly generate income for the UK economy

Publications and outputs

  • Abdellatif M (2019) Hyperspectral Imaging for Autonomous Inspection of Road Pavement Defects
  • Abioye A (2018) Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems - 19th Annual Conference, TAROS 2018, Bristol, UK July 25-27, 2018, Proceedings
  • Abioye A (2018) Quantifying the effects of varying light-visibility and noise-sound levels in practical multimodal speech and visual gesture (mSVG) interaction with aerobots
  • Abioye A (2017) Smart Technology Applications in Business Environments
  • Abioye A.O. (2017) A practical mSVG interaction method for patrol, search, and rescue aerobots
  • Abtan A (2016) Analyzing the 3D printed material Tango plus FLX930 for using in self-folding structure
  • Alan, A.T. (2018) Human-uav teaming In dynamic and uncertain environments
  • Castledine N (2019) Design of a Modular Continuum Robot Segment for use in a General Purpose Manipulator
  • Cavada M (2019) Serious gaming as a means of facilitating truly smart cities: a narrative review in Behaviour & Information Technology
  • Cavada M (2019) Smart City Emergence