As part of a multi-university project exploring the potential of self-repairing cities, a team in the UK has developed a system for self-healing roads that involves cameras with image recognition, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and 3-D printers.

First, the image recognition software scans the footage from cameras watching the roads, looking for signs of stress and the formation of cracks and potholes. These start out as just coin-sized blemishes in the road, but when left unaddressed, quickly become exacerbated due to weather and vehicle traffic. This system, however, can dispatch a UAV equipped with a special asphalt-printing 3-D printer to fix problems while they are still small.

“When you look at interventions in infrastructure — whether it’s roads, pipes, bridges or similar — you’re very often using ton- and meter-scale solutions for problems that started out as gram- and millimeter-scale defects,” Phil Purnell, professor of materials and structures at the University of Leeds, told Digital Trends.