The UK government will invest £26.6m in new micro robots that can be used to repair the massive underground pipe network in the country, which can eliminate the disruption caused by the 1.5 million road excavations that are taken up every year.
As part of the programme, scientists from four British universities will make use of £7m government investment to develop 1cm robotic devices that will use sensors and navigation systems to detect and mend cracks in pipes.
Traffic closures and disruption to businesses of these roadworks are estimated to amount to over £5bn.
An additional 14 projects backed by £19.6m government investment, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), will involve the use of robots in hazardous work places such as offshore wind-farms and nuclear decommissioning facilities.
Researchers will test new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) software on satellites in orbit, to detect when repairs are needed, and drones for oil pipeline monitoring.
The robots will include flying and underwater versions.
British 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.”
The £26.6m funding boost is part of the Industrial Strategy, investing in the technologies of tomorrow and creating high skilled jobs across the country.
The UK already develops robotics technologies, and these projects delivered by UKRI are expected to help make this a sector for UK businesses to grow.
Image: Robots to detect and mend underground pipe network in UK. Photo: Courtesy of Jamie Street on Unsplash.