A radical new way of creating underground structures using AI, machine learning, and so-called swarm robotics has been given the chance to demonstrate its potential by building an underpass in Wales.
HyperTunnel, a UK tech company based in Basingstoke, claims its technology and approach is transforming how tunnels and underground structures are built, repaired, and maintained; now it’s putting government money where its mouth is.
The company has won UK government funding for standout railway innovations at the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) to deliver the underpass; one of 16 schemes that will be demonstrated this year at the centre’s Dulais Valley site in South Wales.
The underpass will demonstrate hyperTunnel’s swarm construction technique, which uses AI, digital surveying, and swarm robotics to effectively 3D print a structure in the ground before any excavation takes place.
According to the company, the result is designed to be an underground construction project that is faster and less expensive to deliver, and which carries less risk, less disruption, less waste and a lower carbon footprint than current cut-and-cover construction techniques.
Steve Jordan, co-founder of hyperTunnel, said: “We are delighted that the GCRE sees the same potential in the hyperTunnel method as our partners in the construction industry.
“Having spent many hundreds of hours developing our robot fleet in the lab in Basingstoke, the system is now ripe for being proven on a real site, in accelerated test conditions, and which can be visited by interested parties.
“The GCRE facility is going to be a huge opportunity for us, and we can’t wait to get started and to present a feasible technological solution to the long-standing level-crossing issue.”
The project aims to provide an economically viable alternative to hazardous level crossings, while improving safety, increasing rail capacity and avoiding inconvenience to road and rail users.
HyperTunnel will build a 20-metre-long pedestrian-sized tunnel under a GCRE test track, designed to allow the track above to remain open throughout the construction process.
The Global Centre of Rail Excellence is currently under construction in South Wales. The intention is to create a world class facility for rail research, testing and certification of rolling stock, infrastructure, and cutting-edge new technologies currently being developed in South Wales.
Located on a 700-hectare site, the aspiration is that GCRE will become Europe’s premier site for rail and mobility innovation. It aims to undertake world-class research, testing and certification of innovative new rail technologies, acting as an incubator for pioneering projects.
This project is funded by the Department for Business and Trade through the competition ‘GCRE: Railway Construction Innovation Phase 2’ delivered by Innovate UK in collaboration with GCRE.
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