hyperTunnel’s Network Rail Project Produces First Underground Structure Built by Robots

British technology company, hyperTunnel has presented the world’s first underground structure constructed entirely by robots as part of an ongoing project for Network Rail.

The underground structure was built at hyperTunnel’s R&D facility in the North Hampshire Downs using a completely automated construction method.

This method uses a digital twin of the tunnel to deploy a fleet of ‘hyperBot’ robots underground via an arch of HDPE pipes. Once inside, the robots 3D-print the tunnel shell and install construction material directly into the ground.

hyperTunnel
Using swarm construction methods according to a digital twin of the tunnel, a fleet of ‘hyperBot’ robots enters the ground via an arch of HDPE pipes

This process is designed to build tunnels more than 10 times faster and at half the cost of conventional methods. As it removes the need for human workers to enter the structure during construction, hyperTunnel could also significantly improve safety for the tunnelling industry.

Steve Jordan, Co-CEO and Co-founder of hyperTunnel, said:

“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.”

The Network Rail project has been demonstrating the hyperTunnel process and exploring the technologies that could enable low-disruption tunnel repairs for the UK’s regional railway infrastructure.

hyperTunnel
hyperTunnel presents the world’s first entirely robot-constructed underground structure

As part of this project, the first 6 metre-long and 2 metre-high and wide Peak XV pedestrian-scale tunnel was revealed at the British Tunnelling Society Conference & Exhibition in London last week.

David Castlo, Network Technical Head (Mining and Tunnels) at Network Rail, said:

“Our large portfolio of Victorian tunnels requires increasing levels of work to meet the needs of the railway network. 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.”

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