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£27M invested in infrastructure maintenance robots

Thames water pipe diversion 3to2

Millions of pounds in funding from the government’s Industrial Strategy is being set aside for British robotics experts to develop tiny robots capable of operating and repairing pipework from the inside.  

Scientists from four British universities have been set the challenge of developing new tiny robots, which will be just one centimetre in length, to maintain the UK’s leaky pipes.  

The robots will be equipped with sensors and navigational technology to allow them to locate and repair cracks and other damage to pipes, from the inside.  

The research to develop these tiny drones, with versions capable of flight and others operating underwater, has been awarded a £7M share of the £27M fund.  

The hope is that the project will reduce the volume of roadworks required to repair underground pipes. These works cost the UK an estimated £5bn in disruption to traffic and business each year.  

The science minister Chris Skidmore said deploying robots to maintain the vast network of pipes would cut such delays.  

“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,” he said. 

“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.” 

£19.6M of funding is also being made available for 14 other projects developing robotics for hazardous environments, including decommissioning work on former nuclear sites.  

UK Research and Innovation chief executive, Sir Mark Walport, said UK experts were playing a leading role in robotic development. 

“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,” he said. 

“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.” 

The funding comes from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund robotics challenge, which is a £93M , 4-year programme that will develop robots to take people out of dangerous work environments and go into areas beyond human limits. 

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