£26.6 million investment to build micro robots that can help repair the UK’s vast underground pipe network preventing disruptive roadworks and using robotics in hazardous work environments to avoid workplace injury.

New micro robots will be built to repair the UK’s huge underground pipe network, significantly cutting the disruption caused by the 1.5 million road excavations that take place every year.

Scientists from 4 British universities will use £7 million government investment to develop 1 cm-long robotic devices that use sensors and navigation systems to find and mend cracks in pipes. The traffic closures and disruption to businesses of these roadworks is estimated to amount to more than £5 billion. A further 14 projects backed by £19.6 million government investment, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), will see robots sent to hazardous work places such as offshore wind-farms and nuclear decommissioning facilities. Researchers will test new technologies, such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) software on satellites in orbit to detect when repairs are needed, and drones for oil pipeline monitoring.

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.”

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport added “The projects demonstrate how robots and artificial intelligence will revolutionise the way we carry out complex and dangerous tasks, from maintaining offshore wind farms to decommissioning nuclear power facilities.

“They also illustrate the leading role that the UK’s innovators are playing in developing these new technologies which will improve safety and boost productivity and efficiency.”

The £26.6 million government funding boost is part of the modern Industrial Strategy, investing in the technologies of tomorrow and creating high skilled jobs across the country. The UK already develops world-leading robotics technologies, and these projects delivered by UKRI will help make this a sector for UK businesses to grow and dominate international markets.

Health and Safety Executive Chair Martin Temple concluded “The key purpose of the Health and Safety Executive is to save lives and prevent workplace injury and ill health. To achieve this, we need businesses to work with us and to be innovative in their thinking around managing risk in the workplace. New and emerging technologies are shaping our working environment.

“As a regulator we want to encourage industry to think about how technologies such as robotics and AI can be used to manage risk in the workplace, safeguarding workers both now and in the future world of work.”

The RICS has launched an insight paper which explores the impact of using artificial intelligence (AI) in the built environment, and the urgent need for industry professionals to understand how it will influence their role, as the future will rely less on human labour and more on technology.

AI in FM

One sector that the Artificial Intelligence: What it means for the built environment highlights as facing a significant impact of AI is facilities management (FM), due to the labour-intensive and repetitive nature of many FM jobs, making it an ideal place for automation of previously human-dominated tasks. However, the report weighs up the positives and negatives of such changes and how companies should deal with them.

Paul Bagust, RICS Global Property Standards Director says “FM will always have a vital role to play within the built environment, and even though many operational roles will become more technology-led, the sector could benefit hugely from AI at a strategic level. For example, machinery utilising AI will revolutionise the FM industry, making many jobs faster, safer, less costly and this will ultimately improve a company’s service offering and increase their bottom line.

“Technology and the availability of data is also changing the way investors look for opportunities and invest. This will present a huge threat to the industry if ignored, but, again, it presents so many opportunities for those who work in the built environment. So, all businesses, however large or small, must act now and analyse and prepare for how this disruptive technology could transform their role, sector and the wider built environment — otherwise they face becoming obsolete.”

Chris Hoar, co-founder of AI in FM added “The paper discusses how AI will transform the property industry by driving smart, efficient buildings from design through to construction. It also highlights how those in the industry can exploit the latest AI applications and developments, including drones and BIM (Building Information Modelling), to plan and work more effectively, while improving and better maintaining the quality of buildings and the wider built environment.

“The overarching message of this report is that organisations should seek out and maximise the opportunities that artificial intelligence presents, while minimising any potential threats. This way, they will have a much better chance of controlling their business strategy, direction and financial health.”

The year is 2045. The roads are full of driverless cars, artificial intelligence has reached superhuman levels and even buildings have an AI personality that runs them. What does the construction industry look like? Hewden answer that question in their latest report written by full time futurologist Ian Pearson.

Ian is a full time futurologist, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. In the report, Ian talks of a thriving industrial Utopia, rife with technological advancements. He says “New materials and techniques will need new skills for construction workers, increasing both their salaries and personal job satisfaction. They will work alongside automated and robotic equipment and AI so will need new skills to manage them to get the best from them. Natural competitiveness will ensure that humans want to show off areas where their own skills are superior, but mostly, workers will come to think of their machines as colleagues rather than just machines. Instead of driving a large digger or crane, it will become more of a close working partnership, with the person in charge, but the machine doing a lot of the thinking for itself. This will allow faster and safer working as well as very precise operation and a wider range of tasks that can be completed.”

The report predicts several advancements within the sector, particularly within the area of automated machinery and robot workers. Augmented reality software will make life easy for specifiers, surveyors and architects, who will be able to walk onto a site and actually see the building they are designing digitally in situ rather than on a piece of paper or on a computer screen.

Pearson also touched on the topic of house building and the role construction will play in housing a growing population, saying that “there is already a shortage of housing, but strong expectations of significant population increase over the next 30 years thanks to aging, immigration and higher birth rates. We will therefore need a lot more construction of housing, plus all the other infrastructure needed for a growing population and associated business. Thankfully, we are coming out of recession now and will soon recover the normal 2% to 2.5% economic growth, and that will double the size of the economy by 2045. Construction investment is often pushed by government as a mechanism for economic growth, so it will benefit by at least that much, probably more.”

To read the full report, please click here: