Network Innovation Allowance

Automatic Tunnel and Shaft Inspections

Project Data

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An innovative new trial alongside engineering and built environment consultancy, Arup is seeing a 4-legged robot deployed in confined spaces during regular maintenance activities in tunnels and shafts, drastically improving safety across the power network in London, the East, and the southeast of England.

What is the project about?

The future of tunnel inspections is being revolutionised thanks to UK Power Networks newest robot companion.

Equipped with a series of high-powered lights, cameras and advanced imaging sensors, the 4 legged robot can connect with Arup’s newly built web based inspection viewer platform, Loupe 360. The platform includes a machine learning interface to automate detection and analyse areas of degradation within hard-to-reach locations with remarkable accuracy.

How we’re doing it

UK Power Networks’ initial trials near its Leicester Square substation and subsequent trials has been met with widespread positivity.

By comparing high resolution cameras and advanced thermal imaging with historical data and images taken during traditional inspections, UK Power Networks can create a more efficient maintenance programme while slashing the number of hours staff need to spend in confined spaces during inspections.

The comprehensive data capture and use of machine learning techniques allow UK Power Networks to identify the rate of change in the condition of infrastructure, improving the understanding of their deterioration and enabling a more predictive, risk-based inspection and maintenance programme to be adopted.

What makes it innovative

Tunnels and shafts, which have long been considered to be of higher risk to maintenance staff, currently require maintenance in excess of £1m+ per year across the power Network in London, the East, and the southeast of England. It is estimated the project could provide potential future savings of £150k+ per year, rising to £300k+ per year by 2028.

What we’re learning

Currently, maintenance inspections require many highly trained Health and Safety and Engineering personnel to carry out tunnel and shaft inspections. It is estimated the project could reduce staff time spent in high-risk locations by up to 50%. The findings taken from the trial will allow UK Power Networks to identify how the solution could be deployed across the network.

A part of the trials is to also validate a fully autonomous inspection regime which an inspector can deploy the robot remotely.

There are 47 DNO-owned tunnels in UK Power Network’s operating area, accounting for nearly a third of all DNO owned tunnels in Great Britain, with over 160 tunnel inspections taking place every year.

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