The government has put £26.6m towards research into micro robots capable of fixing infrastructure, including underground pipes in a bid to cut roadworks and workplace injuries.
Robots will be built to work underground, and also in the air and underwater for other infrastructure.
Scientists at four British universities will get £7m to develop 1cm-long robots that use sensors and navigation systems to find and repair cracks in pipes.
A further £19.6m will go to 14 projects where robots will be built to inspect and maintain oil and gas pressure vessels and offshore wind turbines.
The government notes that at present there are 1.5 million road excavations each year, with an economic cost of £5bn.
Chris Skidmore, UK science minister, said: “While for now we can only dream of a world without roadworks disrupting our lives, these pipe-repairing robots herald the start of technology that could make that dream a reality in the future.
“From deploying robots in our pipe network so cutting down traffic delays, to using robots in workplaces to keep people safer, this new technology could change the world we live in for the better.
“Experts in our top UK universities across the country are well-equipped to develop this innovative new technology.”
Martin Temple, chairman of the Health and Safety Executive, said: “As a regulator we want to encourage industry to think about how technologies such as robotics and AI can be used to manage risk in the workplace, safeguarding workers both now and in the future world of work.”