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Robot powered by 5G in UK-first construction trial

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Robot technology powered by 5G laser scanning has been successfully trialled at a remote construction site in Shetland.

BAM Nuttall has successfully trialled the integrated Trimble X7 laser scanner with Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot in a remote construction setting, utilising a private stand-alone 5G network for remote control, in the first use case of its kind.

The four-legged robot has used specially adapted 3D laser scanning equipment to collect data and create site records. Spot and the Trimble X7 payload were controlled remotely using a private 5G communications network covering the 55,176 m2 site, marking the robot’s first 5G deployment in the UK.

Given the harsh weather conditions, challenging terrain and isolated location, remote operation was critical to the trial’s success, as it proved the robot could take on days of manual surveying work and operate in areas and conditions hazardous to people without operators needing to be on site or even travel to the remote island at all.

Spot has been deployed as part of a 5G testbed funded by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. BAM Nuttall led a consortium with Attocore and BRE to not only create a private 5G stand-alone network on a remote construction site in Shetland but to employ several new technologies and review their benefits for construction. BAM Nuttall also worked closely with the Trimble and Boston Dynamics alliance to ensure the best application for the industry.

This world-leading innovation is being trialled at SSEN Transmission’s Shetland HVDC link project at the Kergord substation site in Shetland. Once complete, the Shetland HVDC link will connect Shetland to the GB energy system for the first time, enabling the connection and export of renewable energy as well as helping secure Shetland’s future securing of supply.

“This project is exciting for us because it’s exactly the kind of application where a robot inherently makes sense and can immediately add value,” said Brian Ringley, construction product manager for Boston Dynamics. “It also shows that we can operate Spot effectively from hundreds of miles away and collect very reliable, repeatable data. It keeps staff from needing to travel to remote and hazardous locations, and it makes the entire surveying project run more efficiently. We’re looking forward to the next steps with the BAM Nuttall and Trimble teams.”

David Burczyk, construction robotics lead at Trimble, said: “BAM Nuttall’s deployment of the Trimble-Boston Dynamics integrated robot solution combined with a private 5G network, has demonstrated the possibilities of unsupervised, large-scale and real-time data collection on remote sites.

“This combination will enable any jobsite leader to deploy these technologies, even on sites that are remote or lack services, to get an accurate and more comprehensive view of construction progress to take proactive measures to ensure on-time, on-budget and safer project delivery.”

Julia Lopez, UK Digital Infrastructure Minister, said: “This trial is demonstrating the amazing potential of 5G-powered robotics to get projects built in less time and at less cost all while improving safety. I’m delighted it’s been made possible thanks to the UK Government’s £200 million 5G scheme to ensure we put this powerful new mobile technology to best use to boost our industries and improve people’s lives.”

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