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First Tunnel Constructed Completely by Robots

Hyper Tunnel Robt Built

UK infratech start-up HyperTunnel has revealed the world’s first fully robot-built tunnel at its research facility in the North Hampshire Downs.

The British technology company’s new automated building method is designed to construct tunnels over 10 times faster and at half the cost of regular techniques.

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

The Peak XV ‘pedestrian-scale’ tunnel has six-meter length, two-meter height and two-meter width, and has been delivered as part of a Network Rail’s project.

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

Network Technical Head (Mining and Tunnels) at Network Rail, David Castlo stated: “Our large portfolio of Victorian tunnels requires increasing levels of work to meet the needs of the railway network.”

He continued: “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.”

In addition, co-CEO and co-Founder of hyperTunnel, Steve Jordan declared: “To unveil our first large scale demonstration tunnel is a big step, not only for hyperTunnel, but for the tunnelling and construction industries which are eagerly anticipating the readiness of our approach to use, as appropriate, in their global projects.”

“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. In fact, the hyperTunnel in-situ method is all about de-risking construction projects,” Jordan asserted.

HyperTunnel has received €1.88m in funding from EIC (the European Innovation Council) Accelerator scheme, Europe’s flagship innovation program, earlier this year. The firm received a financial investment from Vinci as well.

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