Future Tech: An interview with Professor Robert Richardson, University of Leeds Robotics

In this Future Tech video interview we’re speaking with Robert Richardson, Professor of Robotics at the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds. He is Director of the Leeds EPSRC National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems, and held a prestigious research contract to explore The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt using robotic technology that discovered writing in the Great Pyramid that was hidden for thousands of years.

Rob and his team are working on a project to design robots that will self-repair cities. They’re leading a £4.2m national research project to develop small robots which can identify problems with utility pipes, street lights and roads and fix them.

The potential for robots and city infrastructure repair is to do engineering but with minimal impact. Rob has a vision of maintaining a city with the least possible environmental impact, personal impact, or local impact — using small robots in cities to inspect infrastructure to find problems and to fix them on a small-scale before the problems get big.

Imagine a city where potholes are autonomously repaired when they’re less 20 millimeters wide! Not only that, but as part of a larger scale smart cities project, sensors and robot vision systems mounted on buses, carts, and autonomous vehicles are integrated with the robot repair fleet, providing real-time information about road infrastructure conditions. And, once a repair situation is detected, drones might be used to deposit fairly small amounts of material to repair things, or fire off a microwave beam to seal something on the road.

These robots won’t be in your way as you walk down a street, perhaps falling over them. They’ll be doing things when you’re not about and when they can get away with it and its quiet, and you won’t notice, and it’ll just be done. In particular, because you’re catching it early — the energy, the resource, the waste, everything is just minimised, so it’s better for everybody. That’s the bold vision that researchers at the University of Leeds are working on.

While it’s still early in the project, researchers have already designed a range of interesting robots — a few of which are shown below.

Snake Robot (University of Leeds)

Snake Robot (University of Leeds)

Prototype Pipe Robot (University of Leeds)

Prototype Pipe Robot (University of Leeds)

Rob and his team have been involved in exploring the pyramids in Egypt — designing special robots that are able to go into places that people haven’t seen for thousands and thousands of years. We discussed the pyramid exploration robots in our interview, and additional information about these exploration robots is included in this feature article.

In the video below, Rob goes into additional detail about the robotic exploration of confined spaces.

About the author: Shara Evans is recognized as one of the world’s top female futurists. She’s a media commentator, strategy adviser, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.

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