Drones to look for potholes

Drones could be the latest weapon in the battle to tackle badly damaged roads.

As part of a government investment in innovation, £30 million is being spent on highway decarbonisation projects. The Live Labs 2 competition will support projects across the UK with a particular focus on making the construction, maintenance and running of the UK’s roads more sustainable.

One project, funded in the last round, is testing the use of drones to detect potholes in Kent. The trials began in controlled conditions at Kent Showground car park in 2020, by recording potholes, tarmac conditions, trees, and street lighting over three flights across seven months. Phase 2 then moved to the A20 to assess real road conditions.

Drone footage allows engineers to spot deterioration over time and flag faults, including cracks in the road, which were able to be measured remotely.

Kent Live Labs Project Manager, Carol Valentine, said: “The drones use high resolution imaging sensors and collect data to be processed into digital replicas – this means we can overlay images of the surveyed network and analyse the differences in the images.

“By flying regularly, critical changes can be identified helping us to schedule smarter remedial works on our network.”

Previous funding also supported:

  • Plant-based living walls to tackle roadside emissions.
  • Fibre cables that detect vibrations from vehicles and dynamically change signal junctions to combat congestion.
  • Plastic roads in Cumbria
  • Repurposing road sensors, typically used to monitor traffic volumes and weather conditions, to be used in adult social care, by installing the sensors to monitor daily activities, sending signals to carers when needed.