After visiting a university laboratory in Bristol, Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore expressed high hopes for work being done there with futuristic miniature robots designed as a solution for disruptive and costly roadwork. Here’s a closer look at the work -- a collaboration between four Bristol universities, as reported by

Small Wonders

What does the world look like when viewed through the 'eyes' of a micro-robot? This is exactly what Skidmore, MP for Kingswood in Gloucestershire, experienced while wearing a headset linked to one of the robots. The work he observed was part of a five-year, £7.2 million collaborative project during which more tiny devices -- some as small as one centimeter long -- will be created.

The goal of the project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is to enable robots to “use sensors, navigation and communication systems to detect, report and mend faults in the pipes and eliminate the need for human intervention”, without digging up roads.

An Innovative Solution

Citing the “huge potential” of the micro-robots, at a University of Bristol laboratory, Skidmore said, “There is approximately £5.5 billion spent on road repairs every year, with 1.5 million roads dug up. [...] From deploying robots in our pipe network so cutting down traffic delays, to using robots in workplaces to keep people safer, this new technology could change the world we live in for the better. Experts in our top UK universities across the country are well-equipped to develop this innovative new technology.”

In addition to developing the robots, the project -- which involves more than 30 academics, researchers and students -- is also developing ultrasound array imaging technology which will be mounted to the robots to help them identify and fix cracks in the underground pipes. Additionally, flying and underwater robots are also being developed to inspect and maintain oil and gas pressure vessels as well as offshore wind turbines, according to a government press release.

One professor working on the project said, “We are absolutely delighted to be involved in this new technology. It is also a great topic to talk to people about and enthuse them about engineering.”