Robots to roll down Timmins sidewalks to conduct inspections

Robotic machines will soon be rolling down sidewalks in Timmins, to help reduce the time it takes for the northern Ontario city to learn which sidewalks need maintenance or upgrades.

Technology to reduce inspection time from 2 to 4 months to 2 to 4 weeks

One of the robots from Top Hat Robotics that inspects sidewalk. Several of the machines will be used to conduct sidewalk inspections across Timmins, Ont. (Supplied by Top Hat Robotics)

Robots will soon be rolling down the streets of Timmins.

The northern Ontario city will use automated technology to help with its annual sidewalk maintenance inspection program.

"If anybody has seen sort of a sidewalk plow, it would be basically that without the plow," says Patrick Seguin, director of public works and engineering.

The small unit has flashing lights on top, runs on rubber tires and is about the width of a sidewalk. The robotic machines can produce reports faster than workers doing the inspections themselves.

Normally, it would take a team of workers three to four months to complete the inspections across the city. The automated machines will condense that to two to four weeks.

One of the earlier versions of Top Hat Robotics' sidewalk robots. (Supplied by Top Hat Robotics)

Every year since 1999, the City of Timmins has conducted road-needs studies to help budget and prioritize where maintenance or upgrades are needed.

"We felt that adding the sidewalk component would be quite useful," Seguin said.

There are 180 kilometres of sidewalks in Timmins.

"[The reports from the robotic machines] will give us a view of the entire system so we would be able to address the more critical priorities first," he said.

"I'm not sure that they would be addressed quicker, but I think from a risk perspective, we would be doing the more critical ones first."

Questions from the curious 

The automated machines, along with an accompanying worker, will begin inspecting sidewalks in mid-July.

Seguin said the municipality contracted the sidewalk inspection service out to Top Hat Robotics, based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

If residents encounter the machines and have questions, the human chaperone walking alongside it can supply those answers.

"The consultant actually provides a pamphlet that will explain the inspection to anyone who walks by and is curious."

With files from Martha Dillman


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