The UK operator has announced the opening of a robotics research facility at the BT Labs in Suffolk, creating a test bed for telecoms and civil engineering robotics projects

The UK fibre rollout is progressing at a startling pace, racing towards the government’s gigabit Britain goals of 85% coverage of full fibre by 2025. But despite the rollout acceleration we have seen over the last few years, deploying this crucial infrastructure remains a challenge, especially in areas with more complicated geography or regulations.
With the easy-to-reach areas around the country quickly becoming saturated, the question of whether the UK fibre industry can maintain the pace of its rollout in more challenging environments is becoming more pressing.
For BT, the answer to this question lies, as ever, in greater technological innovation, this time in the form of infrastructure deploying robotics.
Today, the operator has announced the launch of a new robotics research facility attached to its BT Labs facilities in Suffolk. 
According to BT, this facility will be the first telecoms civil engineering robotics test facility in the UK, providing a unique environment for universities and robotics start-ups to collaborate.
“The UK is a hotbed of civil engineering innovation, with a thriving university ecosystem and an enviable robotics startup sector,” said Prof Tim Whitley, BT’s MD of Research. “Our aim is to bring those players together in a dedicated facility to develop solutions that make the UK a world leader in telecoms civil engineering robotics. The lab will provide a hub for the creation of solutions to real world challenges and pioneering applications of robots, reinforcing the UK’s position at the heart of research and innovation into advanced technologies.”
Trenchless infrastructure deployment technology appears to be a major focus for the new facility, with BT highlighting three specific testing scenarios the facility will emulate, namely underground, in-duct, and overhead environments. 
From tunnelling robots digging through the earth, to magnetic, climbing robots able to lift infrastructure onto telegraph poles, it is hoped that breakthroughs in robotics technologies will allow for less invasive, time consuming, and potentially complicated fibre deployment, compared to digging traditional fibre trenches. 
Of course, how cost effective these solutions are remains to be seen, but it seems likely that using a single robot with a small number of handlers to deploy fibre to a local area will be cheaper than the larger teams currently necessitated.
BT are not the only company to be realising the value of civil engineering robotics innovation. Last month, for example, Facebook announced the latest progress of their Bombyx robot, a device that crawls along power cables while wrapping them in lightweight fibre optic cables. 
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