Bots2Rec: using robots to clear asbestos and keep workers safe
More and more industrial processes are automated nowadays, but in the construction and demolition sector most tasks are still carried out by hand with conventional tools. This can be slow, inefficient and costly, especially in dangerous environments, where essential safety measures and cumbersome protective equipment can make it difficult for a task to be performed accurately.
The EU-funded Bots2Rec (‘Robots to Re-Construction’) project is developing robots that can clear asbestos – which, when inhaled by humans in the form of fibres or dust, can cause serious lung diseases – from contaminated buildings. The robots act autonomously in a building’s rooms, but an operator can also control them to perform specific tasks, with the help of a virtual representation of the site.
In the past, asbestos was widely used for construction materials, but it is now known to be hazardous to humans. As a result, it has to be removed from millions of homes and other buildings all over the world. The Bots2Rec project researchers are creating a system made up of several robotic units that work together to remove the asbestos from a building: each unit consists of a mobile platform and robotic arm with an abrasive tool that can scrape asbestos away.
Optical and radar sensors make it possible for a human operator to track the work of the robots, even in dark conditions, and to assign specific tasks. Waste material is sucked away by an aspiration system. This means that, if workers do need to enter the contaminated site in the event of difficulties or at the end of the process, their exposure to asbestos is kept to a minimum. The project’s prototype robots are being tested at a mock-up of a contaminated building. In 2017, the project was a finalist in the European Commission’s Innovation Radar Prize, in the ‘Best Early Stage innovation’ category.
Bots2Rec in brief
- Total Budget: EUR 4 768 875 (EU contribution: EUR 3 964 162.50)
- Duration: 02/2016-07/2019
- Countries involved: Germany (coordinator), France, Italy, Spain.
Key figures in the European Union
- Since 2005, the use of almost all types of asbestos has been banned in the EU.
- In 2012 the European Commission established SPARC, a Public-Private Partnership in robotics, under the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.
- Between 2018 and 2020 the Commission is increasing its annual investment in AI to EUR 1.5 billion under Horizon 2020.
Artifical intelligence (AI)
AI is one of the most promising technologies for economic growth and addressing societal challenges in the years ahead. The new wave of AI-based innovations will profoundly impact not only digital products and services, but also traditional industry and the non- ICT sector, and will help to improve people’s everyday lives.
In April 2018 the European Commission presented a series of measures to increase public and private investment in AI, to prepare for socio-economic changes, and ensure an appropriate ethical and legal framework. The new Digital Europe programme that the Commission is proposing for 2021-27, with an overall budget of EUR 9.2 billion, also includes EUR 2.45 billion of funding for AI.