Characterising Nuclear Plants with Multiple Robots with Interchangeable Sensors

Research Area:



Prof. Tony Pipe and Prof. Alan Winfield


Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, UWE, Bristol Robotics Laboratory

Contact details:

The Challenge

The project is focused on providing a reliable and low cost means of remotely characterising the NDA estate using rapidly deployed, reliable, low cost heterogeneous robot teams that work autonomously or with human guidance, and then demonstrating the concept with an exemplar set of robots in both simulation and real-world testing.

The Solution

This project will develop low cost, safe, reliable, highly-versatile and rapidly deployed miniature mobile robot teams that co-operate semi-autonomously to characterise a nuclear environment. The robots will be of different sizes and types. The type of robot locomotion will depend upon the environment and task, e.g., flying, wheeled-drive (hard ground-level surfaces), crawl (irregular terrains), roll (ducts and pipes), slither/burrow (soil and sludge), bounce (drop from height).
A range of miniature interchangeable sensors will be specified to provide geometric, visual, thermal, radiological, isotopic, chemical and hazard data. After a mission, each miniature robot could self-dispose by moving to a waste disposal route or by self-destruction. Alternatively, it could move to a posting port to deliver retrieved samples.

Each robot set will be capable of operating as a self-organised heterogeneous swarm to complete an overall characterisation mission directive, but an operator can issue new directives at any time, to individual or multiple robots. The system will be able to perform sensor-derived data fusion, processing and storage, and convey the results using human-machine interfaces.

The overall design will be simulated in environments such as those shown in Figure 1, and then tested at a decommissioning test rig that has been constructed at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory as part of the EPSRC-funded Programme Grant ‘Robotics for Nuclear Environments’.

The Impact

The need for RAS in the nuclear industry is spread across the entire fuel cycle, and decommissioning is one of the critical areas. In turn, a fundamental initial part of the decommissioning process is characterising the plant to be decommissioned, and this may include measuring the physical location of artefacts, as well as the potentially toxic or dangerous substances in the plant area.

Figure 1

The outcomes of this research have and will be disseminated using mechanisms, ranging from academic publications to conference sessions, exploitation of TV and radio media, to specialist trade events. Vital information provided by the Robotics Simulation Laboratory and Sellafield’s decommissioning test rig for pipe bridges, drains and ducts, both located at NNL Workington have greatly enhanced and facilitated the end user demonstration.


Robotics - Characterising Nuclear Plants with Multiple Robots with Interchangeable Sensors

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