The BT robotics lab emulates three different types of environments in which testing can be carried out: Underground, in-duct and overhead environments
BT has opened a dedicated, 5,000+ square-foot telecoms civil engineering robotics test facility at its BT Labs in the U.K. The lab, located in Suffolk, will provide a space for startups and the university sector to develop new solutions to speed up the deployment of network infrastructure and to solve particularly challenging engineering hurdles such as clearing out blocked ducts and the faster and more cost-effective installation of new fiber network infrastructure.
At the heart of solving such challenges is collaboration between the industry’s different players, which the lab is expected to facilitate by bringing telecom researchers and power and water companies together.
“The U.K. is a hotbed of civil engineering innovation, with a thriving university ecosystem and an enviable robotics startup sector,” commented Professor Tim Whitley, BT’s MD of Research. “Our aim is to bring those players together in a dedicated facility to develop solutions that make the UK a world leader in telecoms civil engineering robotics. The lab will provide a hub for the creation of solutions to real world challenges and pioneering applications of robots, reinforcing the UK’s position at the heart of research and innovation into advanced technologies.”
Both the robotics lab itself and the tests being conducted within it are quite unique. The facility emulates three different types of environments for testing: Underground, in-duct and overhead environments.
Via test beds that can be filled with different types of soil to replicate terrain challenges when laying ducts and fiber, researchers are exploring robotic locomotion and excavation techniques inspired by digging and burrowing mammals and insects. Coupled with technologies developed for space exploration, aerospace and medical applications, such techniques, according to BT, are showing promise for delivering ‘trenchless’ infrastructure deployment.
When it comes to in-duct environments, scenarios in which a duct collapses or becomes blocked with silt build up can be tested using specially manufactured transparent versions of BT ducts. The facility also a full height telegraph pole, with platform access to allow different pole-top fixtures to be fitted for the testing of overhead environments. According to BT, this setup allows researchers to test robots that can lift tools, equipment or cable to the top of a pole.