Reusable robots to enter unknown territory to dismantle radioactive equipment

Software to allow robots to enter an unfamiliar nuclear site and dismantle radioactive equipment is being developed in the UK.


Cumbria-based Createc, which develops imaging and sensing technology, is leading a £1.5m project to develop the software, funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in partnership with Sellafield.

The nuclear industry has traditionally used extremely large, purpose-built robotic machines to carry out decommissioning work, said Matt Mellor, a director at Createc.

Instead, the team believe the future of nuclear decommissioning lies in the use of smaller, cheaper and reusable human-sized robots that can be deployed in unmapped plants. The robots would then explore the plant, using 3D sensors and navigation software, said Mellor.

“We want the robots to perceive what is going on around them, and then feed that perception directly to a human operator, using virtual reality,” he said.

Information from the 3D sensors will be fused together using a type of algorithm known as SLAM [simultaneous localisation and mapping], he said. “This is a computer perception process that looks at the data, understands how it all fits together into one 3D image, and simultaneously works out the location of all of the sensors,” he said.

In this way, the algorithm can work out not only where the robot is in its environment, but also its pose. This information can be used to allow the human operator to control the robot’s decommissioning work using virtual reality, said Mellor.

The project, which also includes OC Robotics, Red Engineering Design, Structure Vision, React Engineering, and UKEA, is part of the £8.5m Integrated Innovation for Nuclear Decommissioning competition.

The competition is part of the NDA’s efforts to encourage smaller businesses to develop decommissioning technology.