Nuclear engineering for safety, control and security
13-14 March 2019 | Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel, Bristol
Robotic systems and innovative technologies in the nuclear industry
- Dr Joaquin Carrasco, University of Manchester and RAIN
- Dr Rob Buckingham, Director UKAEA, Head of RACE
- Peter Smart, Rolls Royce
- Steve Frost, Superintending Nuclear Inspector, ONR
It is widely recognized that the nuclear industry has a range of difficult working environments that can limit the ability for safe human access and it is becoming increasingly common for emerging technologies, such as robotic and autonomous systems and equipment, to be considered for deployment. To date, robotic systems have had limited impact on the nuclear industry, even though it is clear that they can offer opportunities for improving productivity and reducing risks to health and safety across the industry from new plant development through to decommissioning of legacy facilities.
To address these issues there are a number of research initiatives that are developing advanced robotics and artificial intelligence that are likely to become an essential part of future nuclear operations. Their adoption will have the potential to transform the nuclear industry’s ability to adopt and utilise solutions based on these emerging technologies.
The EPSRC/UKRI funded RAIN (“robotics and artificial intelligence in nuclear”) research hub is key in this area and its programme of research has the goal of developing reliable, functional robotic systems that are part of the hubs objectives that could also have important applications in other sectors. The hub’s overall objectives are to lower costs within the nuclear industry, reduce timescales, reduce risk, improve safety, promote remote inspection and reduce the potential for human exposure to ionising radiation and other hazards.
Research teams within RAIN are already actively developing robots for use in ground, air and water applications. ANYmal is a quadrupedal robot designed for autonomous operation in challenging environments. The team behind it are developing sensor integration, foot-placement and looking into the possibility of a belly-crawl type motion with the addition of rollers/wheels. Another example is AVEXIS, an aqua vehicle for underwater exploration that has been designed to survey and monitor difficult to access environments, particularly the legacy ponds and silos at Sellafield.
RAIN are also considering some of the challenges around implementing robotic systems. These include technical readiness for propriety availability and scope for implementation in safety-related applications, as well as the impact of robotic systems on site licensees, including their workers, supply chains and safety/security cases.
In March, leaders from the RAIN research hub, along with representatives from its industrial partners and the regulator, will run a first of a kind workshop. They’ll cover their work on robotic systems, likely applications and potential impact on the nuclear industry.
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