For the second consecutive summer, robots will be rolling down local sidewalks. Working with City of Kitchener staff, these robots are helping inspect sidewalks in the very city they were built.

Kitchener’s tech start-up, Top Hat Robotics, designed and built the robots and, after a successful pilot program in 2020, they have returned to assist staff with the annual inspection process.  

“It’s a great, locally created way to enhance the process of annually inspecting our city sidewalks,” said Jason Winter, director of asset management and business solutions, City of Kitchener. “The robots collect data accurately with less cost to taxpayers.”

Staff person on sidewalk standing beside simple robot with wheels

Before teaming up with Top Hat Robotics, the City’s annual sidewalk inspections were an entirely manual process, detecting defects such as uneven concrete. The robots, which look like a cross between an off-road vehicle and a small Zamboni, use state-of-the-art depth cameras to detect the defects and can measure within one millimeter of accuracy.

“We are always open to innovative and better ways of doing our work and this is a great example of technology and humans working together,” said Rachelle Wheatley, asset management technician, City of Kitchener. “We constantly improve our sidewalk inspection program to ensure we are collecting accurate and reliable data. Staff accompany robots and inspect the encroachment zones around the sidewalk for things like vegetation growth and other elements that could cause issues for pedestrians, or possibly lead to future problems or deficiencies.”

The robots use such exact measurements that staff could see a reduction in the number of repair jobs, freeing up resources to focus on the areas that need more immediate and permanent repairs.

Although the City of Kitchener was one of the first municipalities to work with Top Hat Robotics, the local company now works with 12 municipalities across Canada and has added robotic sidewalk snow removal to their services.

“We are proud to be able to use our technology in Kitchener, where we built our company,” said Tony Nguyen, sales and business development manager at Top Hat Robotics. “Expanding to areas across the country is obviously great for business, but it’s also a chance to show off some of the exciting work happening in Kitchener.”

To report a sidewalk location that needs attention, call the City of Kitchener corporate contact centre, 519-741-2345 or complete an online form.