A tunnel-inspecting robotic system will be tested in London Underground next year

Tunnel inspecting robot to be tested in London Underground

A pan-European team is developing an intelligent robotic system for automated inspections of highway road and railway tunnels.

The system, part of the EU-funded Roboinspect project, wants to make maintenance and safety inspection of tunnels more convenient and safe, reducing the need of shutting down whole highway sections, which limits traffic.

The team, led by Professor Carlos Balaguer, from the department of Systems Engineering and Automation at the University of Carlos III in Madrid, believes the system equipped with high-precision sensors is able to do a better job than a human inspector, as its sensors can detect the tiniest cracks and deformities in the structure, not visible to the naked eye.

The robot-inspector consists of a vehicle fitted with a small crane and a robotic arm. About a size of a small car, the robot will be able to conduct measurements from the distance of up to 5m.

“This will be equipped with an extensive sensorial system (vision, ultrasound and tactile) and will provide the precision and intelligent movement that will be needed in order to carry out inspections in tunnels,” said another team member Juan G Víctores.

The prototype will be manufactured by the end of 2014 and will be tested in London Underground, three subterranean sections of the Greek Egnatia highway and some tunnels in Switzerland.

The ROBINSPECT (ROBotic System with Intelligent Vision and Control for Tunnel Structural INSPECTion and Evaluation), launched in October, is scheduled for three years. The project is part of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union and was awarded some €5m (£4.2m) of funding. The University of Carlos III researchers are working together with teams from Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and the UK.  

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