UK startup builds tunnel using swarm of smart robots

hyperTunnel is looking to transform how tunnelling work is done


A demonstration tunnel shows what a swarm of robots can do. – hyperTunnel

Key Takeaways:

  • hyperTunnel conducted a large-scale demonstration of their swarm robot technique.
  • The technology is being investigated for use repairing old rail infrastructure.
  • The startup has received investment from VINCI and the European Innovation Council.

The Whole Story:

A tech startup wants to put robot swarms to work digging the tunnels of tomorrow. 

UK company hyperTunnel revealed this fall the world’s first underground structure built entirely by robots

The Peak XV tunnel was entirely robot-constructed at a research and development facility in the North Hampshire Downs.

hyperTunnel stated that its automated construction method is designed to build tunnels more than 10 times faster and at half the cost of conventional methods. Their team added that approach is significantly friendlier to the environment and will use sustainable materials such as low-carbon concrete. It also limits the potential for injuries to humans. 

Using swarm construction methods according to a digital twin of the tunnel, a fleet of hyperBot robots enter the ground via an arch of HDPE pipes. Once inside, the robots 3D-print the tunnel shell by deploying construction material directly into the ground. 

The 6 metre-long, 2 metre-high and 2 metre-wide Peak XV pedestrian-scale tunnel has been delivered as part of a project for Network Rail and revealed at the British Tunnelling Society Conference & Exhibition in London.

The Network Rail project has been demonstrating the hyperTunnel process, investigating the technologies that are key to low-disruption tunnel repairs for the UK’s regional railway infrastructure, which includes approximately 650 Victorian age tunnels.

“Our large portfolio of Victorian tunnels requires increasing levels of work to meet the needs of the railway network,” said David Castlo, Network Rail’s network technical head. ”However, we want to reduce the level of disruption to our passengers so we are constantly searching for new approaches to enlarging or repairing tunnels that reduce the length of time a tunnel will be closed to trains. Peak XV moves us a step closer to that goal and, crucially, with a method that reduces workforce safety risk.”

Steve Jordan, co-CEO and co-Founder of hyperTunnel, said the  large scale demonstration tunnel is a big step, not only for hyperTunnel, but for the tunnelling and construction industries. “While using robots exclusively to build underground structures is dramatically different, the contributing technologies, such as digital twins, robotics, 3D printing and digital underground surveying, supported by AI and VR, are all well-proven in other industries,” said Jordan. “In fact, the hyperTunnel in-situ method is all about de-risking construction projects.”

Earlier this year, hyperTunnel received funding of 1.88 million Euros from the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator scheme, Europe’s flagship innovation program. The company also received a financial investment from VINCI, a global leader in concessions, energy and construction businesses.

Video: See how the tunnelling process works


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