Underground robot trial to ease Edinburgh roadworks

A robot makes its way through a pipe. Picture: Deadline News

A robot makes its way through a pipe. Picture: Deadline News

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UNDERGROUND robots are being used to repair gas pipes in the Capital – in a bid to cut down on roadwork chaos.

The remote-controlled devices, which have never been used in Scotland before, work inside the gas pipes to spot leaks and carry out repairs.

A remote operator controls the device. Picture: Deadline News

A remote operator controls the device. Picture: Deadline News

Less of the road has to be dug up, reducing the need for dreaded contraflows.

A pioneering trial took place in Dalkeith Road last week, and proved so successful that the device is this week being used in George Street to inspect around half a mile of metal pipeline.

Gas distribution mains across the UK are being gradually replaced with plastic, but 80,000km of metal pipes still remain.

The ageing metallic pipes are prone to leaks and require continuous inspection, repair and replacement.

The use of this technology will really make a difference in minimising disruption

Matt Ferguson

The underground robots are being used by SGN, a company which used to be known as Scotia Gas Networks and Southern Gas networks.

One main hole in the road is needed to allow the device into the pipe network. An operator can watch live pictures being fed back and give the machine detailed orders.

As well as spotting and repairing leaks, the devices can check for strain on pipes and map the pipe network in unprecedented detail, reducing the chance of other utilities accidentally damaging them.

SGN team manager Matt Ferguson said: “In George Street we’ll be carrying out maintenance on 600 metres of gas pipe.

The robot is fed into the network via a vertical pipe. Picture: Deadline News

The robot is fed into the network via a vertical pipe. Picture: Deadline News

“The work will take around six weeks,. However, the use of this technology will really make a difference in minimising disruption as we will only need to make two excavations in the road.

“In fact, 96 per cent of our work will be invisible as it will take place under the ground.”

The technology is being made by SGN’s partner ULC Robotics, which also worked on an early version of the system.

The project started after SGN won a 2013 competition run by energy regulator Ofgem, with a bid to develop remote robotic techniques to identify and seal leaking joints in live gas pipes.

A spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists said: “The disruption caused by delays and road closures costs the local economy a significant amount of money, and this new technology will allow business to carry on unhindered.

“The gas industry will enhance its image no end by not having to pull up a road and subsequently repair it again.”

Scottish Road Works Commissioner Elspeth King said she was impressed with the technology.

Mrs King said: “The use of this innovation makes an improvement in the way roadworks are carried out and I commend SGN for bringing it into practice in the UK.”

A new study published last month showed Scottish commuters face being stuck in traffic jams for up to 93 hours per year.

newsen@edinburghnews.com