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25 June, 2015 - 09:34 By Kate Sweeney

Robo troubleshooters to comb danger zones from Cambridge control hub

Staff from TWI and London South Bank University meeting at TWI’s Cambridge headquarters

Robots capable of venturing into environments that are potentially deadly for humans are to be developed at a new centre of excellence in Cambridge launched by London South Bank University and TWI.

Safety-critical structures such as nuclear power reactors, offshore oil and gas platforms, and wind turbines require continuous inspection. The majority of these inspections – known as non-destructive testing (NDT) – are carried out manually and expose inspectors to major health and safety risks.

Studies have also shown that manual inspection can miss major defects in safety-critical structures due to human error.

The new London South Bank Innovation Centre (LSBIC) for Automation of NDT will create the next generation of autonomous robotic systems that can carry out inspections with little or no human operator involvement.

The partnership between London South Bank University and TWI – one of the largest research and technology organisations in Europe – will allow TWI’s 700 industrial member companies access to LSBIC’s research, resulting in a direct route to application. 

The establishment of the new innovation centre represents the beginning of a long-term strategic partnership that will, in its first five years of operation, provide a home for 14 researchers and eight TWI-funded PhDs. Developments will be led by industry, with the needs of TWI’s industrial members determining the direction of research.

LSBIC will be led by London South Bank University’s Professor Tariq Sattar, an engineer who has specialised in robotics for more than 25 years. Prof Sattar and his team have received a number of plaudits for their work and have been awarded research income totalling more than €2 million from collaboration with TWI.

The centre will operate from TWI’s newly constructed 25,000-square-metre world-class facilities in a thriving, industrially driven, professional working environment in Cambridge.

Prof Sattar said: ‘We are excited about providing innovative solutions to the inspection needs of TWI’s industrial members. We see this as a wonderful opportunity to take our innovative prototype robots to the next stage of technology readiness level where they become regularly employed in industry to perform inspection tasks. 

“They will keep human operators out of harm’s way and increase the profitability of industrial operations by reducing downtime and outages.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: staff from TWI and London South Bank University meeting at TWI’s Cambridge headquarters. Pictured, front row, from left to right, are LSBU Vice-Chancellor Prof David Phoenix OBE and TWI Chief Executive Dr Christoph Wiesner. Back row, from left to right, are Head of LSBU Mechatronics, Robotics and Non-Destructive Testing Research and LSBIC Lead Prof Tariq Sattar; Dean of LSBU School of Engineering Prof David Mba; TWI Director of Technology Prof Aamir Khalid; TWI Associate Director Prof Tat-Hean Gan; and Manager and Head of the Brunel Innovation Centre at TWI Dr Cem Selcuk.

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