How Robots Could Make Our Cities Smarter

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding smart factories. Harnessing the power of big data, robots, and automation on the plant floor to optimize the manufacturing process is a big deal, after all. Instant communication, eliminating delays and downtime, and predictive actions are the name of the game for smart factories and Industry 4.0. Although the next revolution in manufacturing is titillating for those in industry, it doesn’t necessarily grab the attention of the average person. Smart cities, on the other hand, are something that anyone can get excited about.

Robots and smart cities

The University of Leeds is heading a research project in the United Kingdom that will use robots to improve and repair city infrastructures. The idea is to use automated drones to prowl cities in search of things that need repair. These robots would operate without the need of human input and would help improve infrastructures with interfering with people.

This idea should sound familiar. It’s a concept being applied to smart factories. IIoT technologies will automate predictive maintenance, resolving problems before humans even notice them.

Instead of maintaining motion control systems, however, the autonomous drones will fly around the city in search of broken streetlamps and future potholes.

The robots will be designed with three different tasks in mind.

  • “Perch and Repair” – Drones can do things such as perch on high structures and repair them.
  • “Perceive and Patch” – Drones can do things such as preemptively patch potholes and repair existing potholes.
  • “Fire and Forget” – Drones can inspect, repair, and report on utility pipes.

These drone could also provide extra security through surveillance cameras.

Why it might not work

Hundreds of robots flying around the city, screwing in light bulbs and fixing potholes, is certainly a fantastic idea. It’s the nightmare of maintenance workers and the stuff of science fiction. Unfortunately, it probably won’t happen any time soon. An article from IEEE Spectrum points out the flaws in this initiative.

Basically, it’s not going to happen because it’s both unpractical and unrealistic with our current technology. Perhaps one day we will have drones merrily seeking and destroying unwanted potholes, and handing out warnings for unsightly lawns. Smart factories and Industry 4.0, however, are a present reality. Perhaps smart factories and IIoT could one day help develop the technologies for “self-repairing cities”.