Tunnel construction to be revolutionised with robotic AI

tunnel construction
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A consortium of engineering and robotic automation industry leaders has developed the first robotic AI solution to modernise tunnel construction in a variety of sectors

Developed by Tunnel Engineering Services (UK) Ltd) (TES), i3D robotics (i3D), the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Costain, and VVB Engineering, the new method is set to transform the installation of mechanical and civil services in tunnels.

The final system will be used in tunnel construction for many different sectors, including transport, water, and energy.

Dr Jon Storey, lead engineer at i3D, said: “Developing an automated system to install infrastructure in tunnels has been a long-standing ambition for the construction sector. ATRIS has moved us significantly closer to that goal.”

Advantages of the robotic AI system for tunnel construction

The prototype Automated Tunnel Robotic Installation System (ATRIS) is a groundbreaking innovation for tunnel construction.

It can autonomously select brackets, locate their precise mounting positions on the tunnel wall, and install them, significantly reducing the risks associated with manual labour.

For example, the robotic AI system would eliminate the need to work at height in confined spaces and the hard-arm vibration workers experience during installation.

Once fully developed, the system is expected to increase productivity by 40% due to faster installation and reduce installation costs for new mechanical and electrical systems by 30%.

It will also cut construction plant movements by 40% to decrease embodied carbon.

Nicholas Beedle, group operations director at VVB Engineering, said: “Tunnel works historically are expensive to build and maintain and in the higher risk bracket for safety during construction and operation.

“The development of the robotic AI solution is a step towards solving both of these industry challenges.”

Developing the new system

The 22-month project was led by TES, which developed the initial concept in partnership with the consortium.

MTC used its expertise in robotics and automation to direct the design and manufacture of the robot’s end effectors.

i3D developed the visualisation software, while Costain and VVB provided industry knowledge and expertise in tunnel construction and fit-out requirements.

The project was partly funded by Innovate UK’s Smart grant.

Steve Nesbitt, chief technologist for the Built Environment at MTC, concluded: “By contributing our expertise to this project, we are paving the way for construction companies to adopt technology for greater control and structuring of on-site works, making infrastructure delivery safer, more productive, and more sustainable.”

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