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SBRI: Innovation in automated tunnel examination


UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £1.5million, plus VAT, for projects that develop and demonstrate innovation to automate the examination of tunnels.

This is a single phase Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition and is open to organisations of all sizes based in the UK, EU, EEA, USA or Canada.

Network Rail to invest up to £1.5million, plus VAT. This will support the development and demonstration of new capability in automated tunnel examination. The competition process is managed by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.

The competition supports the objectives of Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (CP6) funding strategy for research and development. The aim of this competition is to improve the accuracy, efficiency and safety of tunnel examinations resulting in a safer and more reliable operational railway.

Your project should reduce the time taken to complete examinations through improved automation and increased repeatability and reproducibility of data. It must also mitigate the risks associated with lower quality examinations due to challenging access constraints and human centric bias.

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Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to develop a solution for automating tunnel examinations, and to demonstrate this on the live railway. The performance of the system will be compared to conventional manual inspections as part of the validation. The team will be required to share the technical specification with Network Rail as part of the deliverable report.

In normal circumstances you will keep all rights to your intellectual property (IP).

Innovate UK will be responsible for funding your activity and monitoring your project. Network Rail will be available to provide guidance and support. You must invite Network Rail to project meetings. A data sharing agreement is in place between Innovate UK and Network Rail. Details of your application and progress reports will be shared between the 2 organisations.

The project will aim to improve the accuracy and efficiency of tunnel examinations. The new system will:

  • Reduce the need for manual examinations
  • Remove human centric bias
  • Inspect both surface and sub-surface defects
  • Use machine learning to identify and track defects
  • Remove the need for human review and analysis
  • Output data in a format that aligns with the Tunnel Condition Marking Index (TCMI) which will be made available to you
  • Be defined in conjunction with the definitions of Rail Industry Readiness Levels (RIRL)
  • Align with Network Rail IT systems
  • Enable engineers to view and analyse results

Additional information on the technical objectives of the project are included in the supporting technical document pack. This is available to applicants, along with information on relevant Network Rail standards and protocols in the secure download site once you start your application.

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £350,000 and £500,000, plus VAT.

Projects must plan to start by 1 March 2020 and end by 31 August 2021. They can last between 12 and 18 months.

Your organisation must:

  • Be an organisation of any size
  • Carry out its project work in the UK

Your organisation must be based in the UK, EU, EEA, USA or Canada. If it is based in the USA or Canada, you must have a legal presence in the EU.

Your organisation can work alone or, if you do not have all the required expertise, you can work with others as subcontractors.

Your project team must include organisations with expertise in infrastructure inspection, surveying and measurement. Teams must also demonstrate the ability to provide access and safety supervision for any plant or equipment used. You should give clear details of these organisations and their expertise in your application.

Innovate UK expect your demonstration to be in an operational railway environment, however, they understand it may be a challenge to access railway assets and railway organisations. Therefore, you will need to develop your own relationships with organisations with appropriate expertise. To get help building your team, you may want to:

Innovate UK have allocated up to £1.5million, plus VAT, to fund innovation projects in this competition.

Successful projects will be 100% funded. The funding is provided by Network Rail and the competition process is managed by Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.

Applications must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively for research and development (R&D) services. For this competition, your application should focus on prototyping and field-testing your product or service in a representative railway environment. R&D does not include:

  • Commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • Supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • Integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

For this competition, Innovate UK and Network Rail will use a portfolio approach to maximise the benefit of the investment of public funding. The portfolio will be spread across a range of project durations and project costs, including demonstrating value for money.

Innovate UK are not funding projects that:

  • Are not likely to be successfully exploited by the rail industry to deliver benefits to rail or light-rail organisations and their customers
  • Do not create a significant change in the level of innovation available in the rail industry
  • Are not high maturity
  • Have high technical risk
  • Have collaborations that cannot effectively deliver a demonstration in a railway environment
  • Do not have a demonstration phase, offering the customer a chance to use the innovation and give feedback
  • Include anything that presents a risk to the operational railway or safety of workers
  • Use equipment that needs contact with the tunnel lining

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.