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Government Backs Robots To Help Boost Health And Safety

Posted: 16/01/2019

The UK government is investing a significant amount in projects to design and develop robots that can carry out work in hazardous environments and provides an alternative to their human counterparts.

An article for the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) magazine revealed that the UK government is investing £26.6 million in a number of projects such as confined space and work at height, as well as awarding funding to several UK universities that are carrying out research into new uses for robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

In total, £19.6 million has been distributed amongst 14 projects. The funds has come from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and involves schemes to develop inspection and maintenance robots for hazardous environments, such as offshore wind farms and end-of-life nuclear facilities.

A further £7 million has been awarded to the universities of Sheffield, Bristol, Leeds and Birmingham, where researchers are collaborating to develop miniature robots that can be used to detect and repair cracks in underground service pipes.

The news provider noted that these robots will be around 1cm in diameter and will use sensors and navigation equipment to find and fix cracks. The intention is to reduce the number of roadworks that need to be carried out each year.

Martin Temple, Chair of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), said: “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.”

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), an independent body that’s funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will oversee the government’s investment in the various projects already announced.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, UKRI Chief Executive, told the news provider that the projects unveiled “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”.

With a growing number of offshore wind farms being established around the UK’s coastline it’s essential that operators focus on safety. Embracing new technology, as well as ensuring any employees who are carrying out maintenance or inspection work and projects have taken the relevant GWO courses and obtained the GEO accreditations.

In November, a £9 million research project was launched as part of a collaboration between two offshore wind farm operators with the aim of minimising the amount of time workers spend offshore.

Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult and GE Renewable Energy are working together to improve health and safety in offshore wind farms, as well as to reduce operating costs.

They are exploring the use of robotics to carry out maintenance tasks, as well as introducing more digital functionality to allow remote troubleshooting and operability of turbines. In addition, there will be a focus on turbine design itself, to ensure that the components being used are as reliable as possible.

Chief Executive of ORE Catapult Andrew Jamieson said that the project is important not only for the UK’s offshore wind farms, but also to ensure that the country remains at the forefront of innovation in this area and is able to capture a share of the international wind energy market.