The government recently announced £26.6m of investments into developing new robotic technology to track and maintain UK infrastructure. This has the potential to transform how industries deploy, manage and repair these assets.
Over 15 different projects have received funding. The largest will see £7m invested in the creation of 1cm micro-robots. These robots have sensors and navigation systems which identify damage to underground pipes.
The 14 other projects will get £19.6m. The researchers in these programmes are also creating aerial and underwater robots. These would track and maintain offshore wind-farms and oil pipelines.
The use of these robots to identify damage to underground pipes will increase access for repair without the need for roadworks. Roadworks are costly, time-consuming and disruptive, often causing traffic jams. There are around 1.5 million road excavations carried out in the UK every year, at a cost of more than £5bn. So opportunities to reduce this burden have huge potential!
Devices like drones offer great value in industrial monitoring. They provide real-time footage of electricity pylons, factory chimneys and the underside of oil rigs. All these locations carry risk for human operators to access.
As a result, this technology reduces the likelihood of accident or injury. For instance, humans won’t have to access hazardous environments (such as nuclear decommissioning facilities).
Automated Observation and Repair Cycles
Next-generation technology will take this work a step further. Monitoring will become automated and only issue alerts when in need of repair work.
The devices developed by these 15 projects may see the rollout of an entire automated system of observation and repair cycles. Micro-robots would detect damage as well as send out units to do repairs!
Although we are a little way off this, for the time being, it would mean a faster, safer and more efficient process.
The UK has a leading role as innovators of these new technologies. There is potential to identify issues across an entire production line. And it's easy to imagine how automations could extend to other industrial applications.
According to Professor Sir Mark Walport, the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Chief Executive, “...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."
One thing is clear - better safety standards and improved productivity are here to stay.
If you’d like to read more about how to improve efficiency in your business read our blog Top 5 Ways to Make Your Business More Efficient!
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