Rail tunnel

New AI prototype to revolutionise tunnel infrastructure installation

A new AI solution could make the installation of tunnel infrastructure safer, faster, cheaper, and greener.

The innovation, known as the Automated Tunnel Robotic Installation System (ATRIS), comes from a consortium of industry leaders in mechanical and civil engineering, as well as robotic automation.

The consortium includes Tunnel Engineering Services (TES), i3D robotics (i3D), Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Costain, and VVB Engineering.

Installing mechanical and civil services can be dangerous, time-consuming and labour-intensive – ATRIS, however, can autonomously select brackets, locate where they need to be mounted along a tunnel wall and install them.

This can improve on-site safety for the workforce when it comes to working at height in confined spaces, hand-arm vibrations experienced during installation etc.

ATRIS is still a prototype but once fully developed, the innovators expect it to:

  • Increase productivity by 40% due to faster installation
  • Reduce installation costs for new mechanical and electrical systems by 30%
  • Cut construction plant movements by 40% to decrease embodied carbon

“Teaching the robots to learn seemingly simple tasks – such as how to avoid cross-threading the screws that go into the sockets – has been hugely fulfilling, thanks to the consortium’s collaborative spirit,” said Lee Bateson, mechanical and engineering manager at Costain.

Lee, who is also robotics lead, added: “Whether it’s carbon reduction, increasing productivity or improving workforce health and safety, this is transformative technology that will have enormous benefits for the customers that we build tunnels for.”

The 22-month project, funded in part by Innovate UK’s Smart grant, was led by TES which developed the initial concept in collaboration with the consortium.

MTC headed up the design and manufacturing of the robot’s end effectors, i3D developed visualisation software for navigation, while Costain and VVB offered industry knowledge and expertise in tunnelling and fit-out requirements.

Image credit: iStock

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