New micro-robots will be built to repair the UK’s huge underground pipe network which the government hopes will significantly cut the disruption caused by the 1.5 million road excavations that take place every year.

Scientists from four British universities will use £7m government investment to develop 1 cm-long robotic devices that use sensors and navigation systems to find and mend cracks in pipes.

The traffic closures and disruption to businesses of these roadworks is estimated to amount to more than £5 billion.

A further 14 projects backed by £19.6 million government investment, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), will see robots sent to hazardous work places such as offshore wind-farms and nuclear decommissioning facilities.

Researchers will test new technologies, such as the use of artificial intelligence software on satellites in orbit to detect when repairs are needed, and drones for oil pipeline monitoring.

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“While for now we can only dream of a world without roadworks disrupting our lives, these pipe-repairing robots herald the start of technology that could make that dream a reality in the future,” said Science Minister Chris Skidmore.

“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.”

UK Research and Innovation chief executive Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “The projects announced today demonstrate how robots and artificial intelligence will revolutionise the way we carry out complex and dangerous tasks, from maintaining offshore wind farms to decommissioning nuclear power facilities.

“They also illustrate the leading role that the UK’s innovators are playing in developing these new technologies which will improve safety and boost productivity and efficiency.”