CERN’s Large Hadron Collider holds the title as the world’s largest particle accelerator, boasting an underground circular tunnel that’s 17 miles long. It’s ideal for smashing particles into each other at nearly the speed of light, but making sure such a gigantic structure is up-to-date and working properly is a daunting task — especially for us mere humans. That’s why CERN’s got TIM, the LHC’s robotic inspector that provides real-time monitoring of the vast tunnel system.
Of course TIM’s name is an anagram — as most robot names usually are — standing for the Train Inspection Monorail. As the name implies, TIM cruises throughout the LHC’s tunnels on a monorail track attached to the ceiling. It’s a track that was originally put in place when the LHC’s tunnel was the tunnel of the Large Electron-Positron Collider, or LEP, a particle accelerator that operated from 1989 to 2000. The LEP was shut down and dismantled in 2001, so that its tunnel could be re-used to house the LHC. Here’s what the monorail looked like during its LEP days, when it carried supplies and workers:
TIM zooms through the LHC tunnel at a swift 3.7 miles per hour, using a suite of instruments to monitor the tunnel’s structure, temperature, and oxygen percentage. The robot can also do radiation mapping, as well as provide operators with visual and infrared pictures of the tunnel’s inside. And if that’s not enough, TIM can pull around a bunch of small wagons designed to perform other specific tasks that TIM doesn’t do.
Right now, there are actually two TIMS, both of which are parked awaiting commands in an LHC service tunnel. That’ll do little TIMs. That’ll do.