BT opened a robotics test lab in its R&D campus Adastral Park in the UK county of Suffolk, designed to trial technology created by universities and start-ups to address challenging engineering tasks related to the maintenance and deployment of telecoms infrastructure.

The facility spans more than 5000 square feet and is a home to test beds mimicking various real-world environments, such as diverse types of soil, to assess whether early-stage innovations can be used to speed the deployment of BT’s infrastructure and the potential to apply them to utility sectors such as power and water supply.

Some of the prototypes include robots capable of digging pathways for ducts or direct-in-ground fibre, helping unblock clogged ducts or lifting tools and equipment to the top of a pole.

During the event, BT also demonstrated a remotely operated robot used for fruit picking in farms and a flight of two drones using a private 5G network. In the simulation, one of the drones located a doll representing a person in distress while the other dropped a lifejacket on the spot.

BT goals and broader meaning for the UK
Managing director at BT Applied Research and Adastral Park, prof. Tim Whitley (pictured), told Mobile World Live the robotics lab aims to produce offerings which can speed the deployment of infrastructure in a more cost-efficient way.

Whitley emphasised the operator works on deploying “a very important piece of infrastructure that’s really going to underpin our digital futures”, allowing the company to harness the power of 5G and let businesses and citizens benefit from IoT and AI, among other technologies.

While he described robotics in aiding infrastructure rollouts as an obvious use case for BT, he highlighted the global possibilities for some of the applications.

“If we’re successful in this endeavour, then it would be fantastic if one of the products could be tech coming out of the UK with a globally exportable capability” which can contribute to the UK’s goal to become a “science superpower”, Whitley stated.