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Watch the Robot That Patrols the Large Hadron Collider

TIM stalks the tunnels of the LHC.

by Matthew Gault
Nov 26 2016, 6:00pm

Tim on patrol. Image: Youtube/ CERN

Hundreds of feet below the French-Swiss border lays the Large Hadron Collider. The 17 miles of strange tunnels accelerate particles at close to the speed of light before smashing them together to see what happens.

That's an oversimplification of a complicated process, one where a lot can go wrong. Someone has to monitor the miles of concrete, plastic, steel, and glass below the earth to avoid disaster and keep science moving. Someone does, someone called … TIM.

TIM is a robot, a Train Inspector Monorail. He glides along the miles of the LHC at up to 3.7 miles per hour—roughly human walking speed, and inspects the tunnels to alert workers and scientists of any problems.

The sleek metal droid has a radiation probe to look for leaks and bursts. It can also check oxygen levels, room temperature, monitor the tunnel structure, and communication bandwidth. An onboard camera can give CERN's scientists either a straight visual or an infrared scan of the of the LHC.

There are two TIMs, one in operation and another awaiting instruction in a nearby bypass tunnel should the first fail or falter. The little robots run along a monorail path constructed in the late '80s to ferry workers and supplies for the Large Electron-Positron Collider, the LHC's predecessor.

The LEP ran from 1989 to 2001, when CERN shut it down to repurpose the tunnel for the new and improved LHC. But they left the monorail system intact so TIM could use it to patrol the halls night and day and do the job no human could, or would want, to do.

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