Research: Micro-Robots Could Repair Pipes


In late December, the United Kingdom’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced $8.9 million in funding toward a project to develop micro-robots that can be used to inspect and repair pipes.

A team of researchers from four U.K. universities will collaborate over the next five years to create the roughly 1-centimeter-long robots that will be able to move through pipes used for water, gas and sewage. Research is being led by Kirill Horoshenkov at the University of Sheffield

According to The Telegraph, there will be two versions of the robots. To date, the government has invested $25.6 million in similar, adjacent projects.

Repairing Pipes with Robots

Researchers believe that the robots will be able to use sound and vibrations to examine the quality of the pipe. One kind of robot will be an “inspection bot” that can examine pipes autonomously and rapidly; the other will be a slightly larger “worker bot” that will be equipped with materials to do repair work. The latter is likely to be controlled by people above ground. Cement mix and adhesives will likely be used to repair damaged pipes.

Additionally, the worker bot may also use a high-powered jet for sediment removal. Other tool options are still being developed by researchers.

“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,” said Science Minister Chris Skidmore.

“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 U.K. universities across the country are well-equipped to develop this innovative new technology.”

Research into these pipeline repair and maintenance options is one of 14 projects to use artificial intelligence to address issues problems associated with dangerous work conditions. These additional research projects, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will extend the functionality of the robots to offshore wind-farms and nuclear decommissioning facilities. There are also plans for using AI on satellites to read for when repairs are needed.


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; EU; Europe; Infrastructure; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Research and development

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.