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Handling hazardous materials, building specific structures, diagnosing structures, locating people during unexpected events, automation, increasing productivity, higher levels of work safety, reducing errors, connection to modern BIM technologies and in the future to artificial intelligence and much more. All this was addressed by leaders of the Czech construction industry and representatives of academia at the Josef Underground Laboratory at the "Robotics in Underground" event, which focused on the possible future challenges that robotics opens up in this environment. The event was jointly organised by the Centre for Experimental Geotechnics of Faculty of Civil Engineering, the Experimental Centre of Faculty of Civil Engineering, the National Centre for Construction 4.0 and representatives of partner companies.

"In terms of future use, robotics has a wide range of applications underground. This is a development that we will not be able to avoid in the future if we want to be among the countries at the technological cutting edge.  The Josef Underground Laboratory is an ideal environment for testing existing technologies and machines, as well as for cooperation in the development of new ones," says Ing. Jiří Št'astka, Ph.D., head of the Centre for Experimental Geotechnics at Faculty of Civil Engineering, which operates the Josef Underground Laboratory. "In addition to our scientific capacities and technologies, we also have a lot of experience from previous projects, including experiments carried out with the Radioactive Waste Repository Authority (SÚRAO), the Czech Geological Survey (ČGS) and also, for example, with the Institute of Nuclear Research Řež. We are therefore pleased that the meeting allowed us to personally present the premises, the topics addressed and the possibilities of this unique workplace to top representatives of companies. The meeting has already given rise to the first impulses for new cooperation. We are particularly interested in the opportunity to move research projects into practice.  For example, projects related to the construction of a deep-sea repository bring experience that not only verifies the safety of the system, but also serves, for example, to design optimizations that can result in a significant reduction in the cost of certain technologies. Another benefit is the popularisation of the topics addressed; in the Josef Underground Laboratory, both students and the general public learn about current challenges for society, such as the disposal of radioactive waste, the use of robots or storing energy" adds Jiří Šťástka.

The Experimental Centre of Faculty of Civil Engineering has been involved in research in the field of robotics for many years. "For example, we test robotic 3D printing, robotic orientation of fibres in cement composites, robotic bricklaying of ceramic brick blocks and have other activities in ongoing projects. Robotic technologies also represent a significant advance in the solution of projects carried out underground, for example, in the modification of tunnel lining, transport of materials, installation of sensors in tunnel lining, etc. Our intention is to integrate theoretical knowledge with practical applications and to contribute to innovation in the field of construction. The cooperation with the Josef Underground Laboratory expands the possibilities of robotic technology applications in extreme conditions," says Prof. Petr Konvalinka, Head of the Experimental Centre.

The open academic-industrial platform National Centre for Construction 4.0 also participated in the Robotics in Underground event. "Our goal is to link academia with industry. The main focus of the centre is the integration of digitalisation, automation and robotics in the construction industry with an emphasis on sustainability and minimising negative environmental impacts. Therefore, I believe that this event will create opportunities in this area as well, and a unique Testbed will be created in the Josef Underground Laboratory, which will join the existing network," says Prof. Radoslav Sovják, Director of the National Centre for Construction 4.0.

The Josef Underground Laboratory of Faculty of Civil Engineering is a unique underground workplace for practical teaching of students and experimental activities, its foundation is the Josef Adit, which was excavated in the 1980s in connection with the exploration of two gold deposits. the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic lent the adit located near the villages of Mokrsko and Čelina to the Faculty for educational and research purposes. The Josef underground laboratory was opened in 2007. About 6 km of adits and tunnel eyes have been opened so far.

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Lidmila Kábrtová