Transforming roadworks with our all-electric excavation robot

21 Jan 2020

We’ve partnered with a world-leading robotics company to transform the most costly and disruptive job in the industry – excavation – with the world’s first Robotic Roadworks and Excavation System.

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With our gas pipes buried underneath Britain’s roads and pavements, excavating in the road is essential to enable us to maintain and upgrade our network. However, this doesn’t come without associated safety implications as well as disruption to residents and road users. We’re committed to reducing the impact of our essential work on the public, so we’re investing in ground-breaking technology to alleviate these issues.

“Because we operate 76,000km of underground pipelines in the UK and dig thousands of excavations every year, we recognise the need for smarter roadworks. We’re leading the effort to change utility excavation by investing in the development of technology to address this global problem,” says John Richardson, our Head of Innovation.

The Robotic Roadworks and Excavation System (RRES) project combines a powerful industrial robot, an all-electric track drive system, below-ground locating sensors, artificial intelligence, machine vision, and new vacuum excavation methods for safer, faster autonomous roadworks. 

The collaborative project between us and US-based ULC Robotics, which is funded by the energy regulator Ofgem, will reduce accidental damages to buried infrastructure, minimise carbon emissions and improve the safety and speed of utility excavation and construction.

“We are at the midway point of the project and in partnership with SGN we have been able to create the world’s first functional all-electric autonomous excavation robot,” said Ali Asmari, Program Manager at ULC Robotics. 

“There is a significant amount of work remaining, including the development of additional tools and support equipment, as well as testing and validating the robotic operation in different environments, but we have an outstanding team and are confident that the robot will be ready to work come 2021.”

The RRES is currently conducting autonomous operations, including cutting of the road surface and performing a patented vacuum excavation method.

“Progress on the development, learnings and outputs of the project have gone above and beyond our expectations,” added John Richardson. “We see RRES as a platform that can expand to meet the needs of the global utility and construction industries.”

Initial field trials of RRES are scheduled to take place on our network next later this year.