Construction News

Thu April 15 2021

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Funding boost for pipe repair robots

2 Jan 19 Research & development funding has been approved to support the development of an army of micro robots to repair the UK’s underground pipe network, reducing the disruption caused by excavations.

The new generation of pipe repair microbots won't look much like these little fellas
The new generation of pipe repair microbots won't look much like these little fellas

Scientists from four British universities will use £7m government investment to develop 100mm-long robotic devices that use sensors and navigation systems to find and mend cracks in pipes. The traffic closures and disruption to businesses of these roadworks has been estimated to amount to more than £5bn.

A further 14 projects backed by £19.6m government investment, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), will see robots sent to hazardous work places such as offshore wind-farms and nuclear decommissioning facilities. Researchers will test new technologies, such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) software on satellites in orbit to detect when repairs are needed, and drones for oil pipeline monitoring.

Science minister Chris Skidmore said: “While for now we can only dream of a world without roadworks disrupting our lives, these pipe-repairing robots herald the start of technology that could make that dream a reality in the future

“From deploying robots in our pipe network so cutting down traffic delays, to using robots in workplaces to keep people safer, this new technology could change the world we live in for the better. Experts in our top UK universities across the country are well-equipped to develop this innovative new technology.

“We have put research and development at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy, with the biggest boost to funding in UK history to create high skill jobs and boost productivity across the country.”

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) chief executive Sir Mark Walport said: “The projects announced today demonstrate how robots and artificial intelligence will revolutionise the way we carry out complex and dangerous tasks, from maintaining offshore wind farms to decommissioning nuclear power facilities.

“They also illustrate the leading role that the UK’s innovators are playing in developing these new technologies which will improve safety and boost productivity and efficiency.”

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The £26.6m government funding is part of its Industrial Strategy.

Innovate UK, part of UKRI, funded some of the projects through a new scheme called the Innovation Lab – a one-week residential workshop where some of the UK’s robotics researchers and businesses joined forces to create project proposals.

The successful projects are:

Inspect, Maintain and Repair in Extreme Environments Collaborative R&D

  • autonomous aquatic inspection and intervention led by Rovco Ltd
  • Chimera – robotic inspection of pressure vessels led by Forth Engineering Ltd
  • Connect-R led by Barrnon Ltd – an industrial-scale self-building modular robotic solution to provide robotic access to work-sites in hazardous environments
  • Prometheus – a reconfigurable robotic platform(s) with advanced sensing for confined spaces led by Headlight AI Ltd
  • Multi-Platform Inspection Maintenance & Repair In Extreme Environment (MIMRee) led by Plant Integrity Ltd

Demonstrator phase 2 projects

  • advancing underwater vision for 3D Phase 2 (AUV3D-P2) led by ROVCO Ltd
  • LEO satellite based AI demonstrator led by Myrtle Software Ltd
  • unmanned surface vessels for rapid environmental assessment in challenging inland waterways and tidal environments led by Safeguard Nautica Ltd
  • autonomous robotic intervention system for extreme maritime environments (ARISE) Stage 2 led by Autonomous Surface Vehicles Ltd
  • demonstrator for robotic inspection and maintenance of offshore wind turbine blades led by Bladebug Ltd
  • in-service X-ray radiography of offshore wind blades (RADBLAD) led by INNVOTEK LTD
  • autonomous, robotic and AI enabled bio-fouling monitoring, cleaning and management system for offshore wind turbine monopile foundations (RobFMS) led by Innovative Technology and Science Ltd
  • WatchChainR led by Archangel Imaging Ltd
  • offshore infrastructure robotic inspection system (OSIRIS) demonstrator led by Autonomous Devices Ltd

Health & Safety Executive chair Martin Temple said: “The key purpose of the Health & Safety Executive is to save lives and prevent workplace injury and ill health. To achieve this, we need businesses to work with us and to be innovative in their thinking around managing risk in the workplace. New and emerging technologies are shaping our working environment.

“As a regulator we want to encourage industry to think about how technologies such as robotics and AI can be used to manage risk in the workplace, safeguarding workers both now and in the future world of work.”

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