This was our April Fool... Robots will be brought in to do roadworks in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire
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A revolution on our roads is set to continue at breathtaking pace - and Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire will spearhead a dramatic new innovation, the EDP can reveal today.
After driver-less cars and trucks emerged in the last few months, our region is to pioneer the arrival of roadworks without workmen.
In what could be the death knell for the roadside tea-break, where cuppa time has sometimes frustrated drivers caught in queues, the scheme, already working in Scandinavia, could be in Norfolk within weeks.
Once materials are delivered to a site, robots will take over, using latest GPRS technology to pinpoint where pot-holes need to be filled, before setting to work to plug the gaps.
Machines have already been programmed to lay block paving in the most important areas where cosmetic appearance is all important.
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The move primarily is one of cost-saving with the machines able to work 24/7 - lighting up night skies wherever the work is underway.
Machines can operate pneumatic drills but may be a little noisier in operation, as computer programmes have not yet detected how to work between soft and hard surfaces.
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The robots have been programmed to carry out both routine and complex work and offer problem-solving solutions via a form of artificial intelligence, said Dr Faya Ploosil, of Finland's Metropolitan Institute of Technology based in Helsinki.
Hundreds of miles of Scandinavian motorways have already been repaired this way and industrial action is now seen as a thing of the past as have annual pay talks.
The goal is that, within a year, Norfolk will be a so-called 'self-repairing county' and work which would have taken months can be completed in a matter of days.
'It's an ambitious plan but we hope to make East Anglia the first region in England which has zero disruption due to street works,' said Steve Morphew, chairman of the Norwich Highways Committee,
'The robots can work for 24-hours straight and require no tea breaks whatsoever. Work on Chapel Field Road in Norwich took humans 10 weeks to complete, the robots could have done the lot in three days.
'In addition to the roadwork robots, we have also commissioned a set of drones that can attend to potholes and street lights and others which we can send into the city's subterranean pipes to carry out constant maintenance work. This will save us a fortune in masks, air freshener and rubber boots.'
Norwich City Council's £5.7m Push the Pedalways scheme and shake-up of the city centre have caused traffic jams thanks to closures, road narrowing and the replacement of key junctions - but work which took months would take just a fraction of the time after the robot revolution.
Dr Ploosil, who has been working on the droids for the past two years, said: 'We asked one robot what it would have done if it had been faced with troublesome tree roots on The Avenues in Norwich, bearing in mind that the scheme for a cycle path had to be abandoned last year because protecting the roots from roadworks was prohibitively expensive.
'The robot gave us an artist's impression of how it would have tackled the problem. It involved flame-throwing and chainsaw robot arm extensions but there's nothing to say that we can't override the robots' advice. Man still rules machine!'
The scientist admitted there had been teething troubles. 'One of the robots developed an accent like Arnold Schwarzenegger, its eyes began to glow red and the machine and started talking about tracking down somebody called John Connor. We had to switch that one off, but just as the power went down, it said 'I'll be back'. That was a bit strange, but I'm sure none of the other robots will be tempted to embark on a vengeful rampage which could wipe out the human race. Fingers crossed, anyway.'
A council spokesman denied reports that the first thing the robots intend to do once operational is put the city centre back the way it was before all the recent work started and then make a bid for one of their number to be elected as the inaugural mayor of East Anglia.
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