Projects That Use Robots to Create a Safer World for Humans
September 27, 2019      

Editor’s note: The U.K. is one year into a program that is helping to fund projects that develop safer and more productive technologies for working in extreme environments. The “Robots for a Safer World Challenge“, part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, has the U.K. investing £ 93 million (about $114 million) to develop new technologies and systems that can be deployed in areas such as nuclear energy, offshore energy, deep mining, and space. The groups Innovate UK and the Enterprise Europe Network have authored this guest post, highlighting some of the companies that are helping to make the world a safer place.

Using Robots for a Safer World

From keeping workers safe in extreme environments to increasing productivity, robotics are an essential part of our every day lives. Greater use of them will unlock numerous benefits, with safety being one of the main ones. So, who are the companies making a difference? What can we expect in the future?

Let’s take a closer look at using robots for a safer world.

Why are Robots Important?

Many industries require work in extreme environments, such as deep sea or nuclear areas. This includes the offshore wind industry, for example.

However, these possess numerous dangers for workers. Journeying to the depths runs the risk of decompression sickness – to name just one. They are also home to near-freezing temperatures. Therefore, it’s much safer to deploy robotics to carry out the necessary work in these environments.

What’s more, robots are much more dexterous than humans, meaning they can perform tasks much quicker. The result? Increased productivity.

This isn’t to say that robots will replace us in the workplace, rather, we will adapt to include them in our daily jobs.

Changing the Future

So, who are the companies creating the robots changing the world for the better? Here’s just a few.

Astroscale

Down here on land, we have to deal with issues of pollution. Up in space, the story is the same. It’s time to address the vast amount of debris polluting the orbital highway.

To give an indication of the scale of the problem, there’s over 8,000 tonnes of it found at the moment.

Satellites are essential for a range of services, including communications, internet and GPS. When these become defunct it has huge consequences for us in our everyday lives. This also poses risks for the space environment of the future, as broken satellites are one of the most common examples of large-scale debris. It’s vital we do more to preserve the atmosphere around us.

So, what’s the solution?

Astroscale have embarked on a pioneering mission to clear up space debris. Their cutting-edge project focuses on both mitigation and removal. This involves bringing down debris currently in orbit, while also ensuring we don’t add to the problem.

Thurn Group

Arctic ice presents a number of hazards for ships, however surveying this environment is dangerous for workers.

This is where Thurn Group’s technology comes in. Their underwater robots (autonomous submarines) can be used to look up at the ice from below. They assess whether the ice poses a threat to pipelines, infrastructure or shipping routes.

This is useful in a number of different ways. One example would be if ice is piling up on the side of an oil rig. A uman being couldn’t be safely deployed to assess the situation. Therefore, it can be dealt with by sending a robot to study and gauge the danger.

New shipping routes can also be threatened by icebergs. However, these courses are necessary for speeding up delivery times and reducing oil use. Again, autonomous submarines can provide an understanding of what the ice threats are, ensuring the route stays open for longer.

Perceptual Robotics

Why use people when you can use drones?

Large offshore wind farms in the North Sea are subject to high wind and wave conditions. This poses an enormous amount of safety risks for people when they require servicing or inspection. However, the wind farm market is centered around this area, and the U.K. has a large stake within it.

So, what’s the solution? Automated travel and inspections. These replace the now dated and dangerous method of sending a whole crew out to the harsh environment.

Perceptual Robotics dispatch a number of robots and drones to carry out vital work, including wind turbine inspections.

Automating the process has resulted in reduced inspection time, while simultaneously increasing safety. With just one press of a button, the inspection can be carried out in minutes.

What are the challenges?

Despite significant progress, there are a number of challenges faced by companies within the robotic space.

One of the main ones is the cost of production, which can be extremely high. Particularly for small businesses or SMEs, overcoming this is difficult.

It’s likely we’ve only scratched the surface of what robotic technology can do, therefore finding solutions to any issues is hugely important.

Supporting those in the industry

So, how can we overcome these challenges?

Collaborative robots companies stand a better chance of generating new ideas and growing exponentially.  The importance of worldwide business collaboration and partnerships should never be underestimated.

The ‘robots for a safer world’ challenge has been designed specifically to support businesses within the space. It aims to help create safer work environments and improve productivity. It’s just one example of the government investing in robotics and what they can do for our future.