BT opens first Telecoms robotics lab in the UK

New robot facilities at BT's martlesham suffolk research base

BT is opening the UK's first telecoms robotics test lab - Credit: Lee Wilkinson

BT are opening a 5000 sq ft robotics facility at their Martlesham Labs in order to research how robots can build and repair internet infrastructure. 

The site, which will be located in Adastral park, aims to place the UK at the forefront of a new era of robotics development for telecoms and civil engineering. 

Plans are to work with the university sector and other utilities to trial a new range of UK-developed robotics which are applicable to telecoms and utility sector civil engineering challenges.  

These include problems such as how to clear out blocked ducts, mend collapsed ducts and install new fibre network infrastructure without the hassle of digging up roads.

BT bosses say that new techniques inspired by digging and burrowing mammals and insects, coupled with the latest technologies developed for space exploration, aerospace and medical applications are showing real promise for delivering so-called ‘trenchless’ infrastructure deployment.

Magnetic, climbing and cable-traversing robotic techniques are also maturing, enabling proof-of-concept trials on wireless towers and overhead cable poles.  

Professor Tim Whitley, BT’s managing director of research, said: “The UK is a hotbed of civil engineering innovation, with a thriving university ecosystem and an enviable robotics startup sector. 

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"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.” 

The martlesham facility will focus on developing robots that can help install telecoms infrastructure

The facility will be focused on developing robots that can help install and repair telecoms infrastructure - Credit: Lee Wilkinson

Emulating three types of environment, the new lab is designed to allow research teams to trial the latest innovations in robotics within a variety of test zones, including underground, in duct, and up a pole. 

Several test beds in the facility can be filled with earth to simulate an underground environment. The compaction, moisture content and stone content can all be controlled to test the ability of robots to dig tunnels for ducts and fibre optic cables. 

In addition, pipe stands are used at the facility to construct duct runs, using transparent versions of BT ducts. This allows scenarios where a duct collapses or becomes blocked to be replicated.

Finally, the lab will have a full height telegraph pole, which will be used to test robots that can lift tools, equipment or cable to the top of a pole.