UK Power Networks is trialling a new robotic dog to carry out tunnel inspections in East Anglia.

'Spot', who is about the size of a Labrador, is helping to keep workers safe across the underground power network in London, the East and the South East of England.

The robotic pooch takes remotely-guided ‘walkies’ to get camera footage and thermal imaging. This is then combined with a new machine-learning platform using historical data to make sure underground cables remain reliable and assess how quickly the infrastructure’s condition changes.

The UK-first trial has seen Spot, supplied by US firm Boston Dynamics, equipped with lights, cameras and advanced thermal imaging sensors, capturing comprehensive data in hard-to-reach locations. For example, Spot recently went for a trial run near a UK Power Networks substation in the heart of London.

Initial results revealed its potential to reduce the time of maintenance inspections where staff work in confined spaces by up to 50pc.

The innovative project has been supported by engineering and built environment consultancy Arup, whose new web platform includes a machine-learning interface to accurately analyse the condition of tunnels and equipment, enabling UK Power Networks to fine-tune maintenance inspections.

Eastern Daily Press: Spot taking a rest after inspecting a tunnelSpot taking a rest after inspecting a tunnel (Image: UK Power Networks)

Ian Cameron, director of customer service and innovation at UK Power Networks, said: “The safety of our staff remains our top priority as we continue to keep the lights on for people.

“The application of Spot alongside Arup’s digital interface has proven to be a massive success and could significantly reduce the risk to staff during tunnel and shaft inspections.

“This is cutting-edge technology, allowing us to focus on other areas of the network and potentially saving our customers money in the process.”

Mike Devriendt, project director at Arup, said: “It has been a pleasure to work collaboratively with UK Power Networks to introduce, trial and apply these new innovative technologies.

"We see great opportunity for the use of both the hardware and software technology to support UK Power Networks with improving their understanding of the condition of their assets while at the same time improving health and safety practices.”

UK Power Networks owns and runs the cables and substations which deliver electricity from the national grid to 8.5 million homes and businesses across London, the South East and East of England, serving approximately 20 million people.

There are 47 tunnels across UK Power Networks’ operating areas, with over 160 tunnel inspections taking place every year. These cost in excess of £1 million per year across UK Power Networks’ areas.

As well as increasing the safety of engineers, it is estimated the 'Spot' project could initially save £162,000 per year, rising to £324,000 per year by 2028.