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September 1, 2023

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New robot ‘dog’ reduces power workers’ time in confined spaces

 UK Power Networks’ new robot companion has been used in trials for tunnel inspections aimed to reduce work for people in confined spaces. 

In an innovative trial, robotic dog ‘Spot’ who is about the size of a Labrador, is helping to keep workers safe across the underground power network in London, the East, and the South East of England.

Spot takes remotely-guided ‘walkies’ to get camera footage and thermal imaging, which is then combined with a new machine-learning platform aim to use historical data to make sure underground cables remain reliable, and also assess how quickly the infrastructure’s condition changes.

The UK-first trial has seen Spot, supplied by US firm Boston Dynamics, equipped with lights, cameras and advanced thermal imaging sensors, said to capture comprehensive data in hard-to-reach locations, such as a trial run near a UK Power Networks’ substation in London.

Initial results revealed its potential to reduce the time of maintenance inspections where staff work in confined spaces, by up to 50%, according to UK Power Networks.

The project has been supported by engineering and built environment consultancy Arup, whose new web platform includes a machine-learning interface to analyse the condition of tunnels and equipment with ‘remarkable accuracy’, enabling UK Power Networks to fine-tune maintenance inspections.

“Improving health and safety practices” 

Ian Cameron, director of customer service and innovation at UK Power Networks, said: “The safety of our staff remains our top priority as we continue to keep the lights on for people.

“The application of Spot alongside Arup’s digital interface has proven to be a massive success and could significantly reduce the risk to staff during tunnel and shaft inspections.

“This is cutting-edge technology, allowing us to focus on other areas of the network and potentially saving our customers money in the process.”

Mike Devriendt, project director at Arup, said: “It has been a pleasure to work collaboratively with UK Power Networks to introduce, trial and apply these new innovative technologies. We see great opportunity for the use of both the hardware and software technology to support UK Power Networks with improving their understanding of the condition of their assets while at the same time improving health and safety practices.”

There are 47 tunnels across UK Power Networks’ operating areas, with over 160 tunnel inspections taking place every year that require teams of staff to cover health and safety plus engineering tasks.

These cost in excess of £1million per year across UK Power Networks’ areas. As well as increasing the safety of engineers, it is estimated the project could initially save £162,000 per year, rising to £324,000 per year by 2028.

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