An excavation robot seeks to change the utility industry


ONE of the largest gas network companies in the UK has partnered with a robotics company to transform the most costly and disruptive job in the industry – excavation.

With its gas pipes buried underneath Britain’s roads and pavements, excavating in the road is essential to enable SGN to maintain and upgrade its network.

However, this doesn’t come without associated safety implications as well as disruption to residents and road users.

John Richardson, Head of Innovation at SGN, commented on their new innovation: “Because we operate 76,000km of underground pipelines in the UK and dig thousands of excavations every year, we recognise the need for smarter roadworks.

“We’re leading the effort to change utility excavation by investing in the development of technology to address this global problem.”

The Robotic Roadworks and Excavation System project combines a powerful industrial robot, an all-electric track drive system, below-ground locating sensors, artificial intelligence, machine vision and new vacuum excavation methods for safer, faster autonomous roadworks.

The collaborative project between SGN and ULC Robotics, which is funded by Ofgem, will reduce accidental damages to buried infrastructure, minimise carbon emissions and improve the safety and speed of utility excavation and construction.

 Ali Asmari, Ph.D, Program Manager at ULC Robotics, added: “We are at the midway point of the project and in partnership with SGN we have been able to create the world’s first functional all-electric autonomous excavation robot.

“There is a significant amount of work remaining, including the development of additional tools and support equipment, as well as testing and validating the robotic operation in different environments but we have an outstanding team and are confident that the robot will be ready to work come 2021.”

The RRES is currently conducting autonomous operations, including cutting of the road surface and performing a patented vacuum excavation method.

“Progress on the development, learnings and outputs of the project have gone above and beyond our expectations,” Mr Richardson added.

“We see RRES as a platform that can expand to meet the needs of the global utility and construction industries.”

Initial field trials of RRES are scheduled to take place in 2020 on the SGN network.