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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/P01366X/1
Title: Robotics for Nuclear Environments
Principal Investigator: Lennox, Professor B
Other Investigators:
Pipe, Professor A Stolkin, Professor R Watson, Dr SA
Winfield, Professor AFT Giuliani, Professor M Leonardis, Professor A
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
EDF FIS360 Forth Engineering Ltd
Italian Institute of Technology KUKA Robotics UK Limited National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL)
National Physical Laboratory Network Rail Nu Generation
Nuclear Decomissioning Authority UK Atomic Energy Authority
Department: Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Organisation: University of Manchester, The
Scheme: Programme Grants
Starts: 01 May 2017 Ends: 31 March 2023 Value (£): 4,650,283
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Control Engineering Energy - Nuclear
Human-Computer Interactions Instrumentation Eng. & Dev.
Robotics & Autonomy Safety & Reliability of Plant
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
09 Nov 2016 Programme Grant Interviews - 9 November 2016 (Engineering) Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The vision for this Programme is to deliver the step changes in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) capability that are necessary to overcome crucial challenges facing the nuclear industry in the coming decades.

The RAS challenges faced in the nuclear industry are extremely demanding and complex. Many nuclear installations, particularly the legacy facilities, present highly unstructured and uncertain environments. Additionally, these "high consequence" environments may contain radiological, chemical, thermal and other hazards. To minimise risks of contamination and radiological shine paths, many nuclear facilities have very small access ports (150 mm - 250 mm diameter), which prevent large robotic systems being deployed. Smaller robots have inherent limitations with power, sensing, communications and processing power, which remain unsolved. Thick concrete walls mean that communication bandwidths may be severely limited, necessitating increased levels of autonomy. Grasping and manipulation challenges, and the associated computer vision and perception challenges are profound; a huge variety of legacy waste materials must be sorted, segregated, and often also disrupted (cut or sheared). Some materials, such as plastic sheeting, contaminated suits/gloves/respirators, ropes, chains can be deformed and often present as chaotic self-occluding piles. Even known rigid objects (e.g. fuel rod casings) may present as partially visible or fragmented. Trivial tasks are complicated by the fact that the material properties of the waste, the dose rates and the layout of the facility within which the waste is stored may all be uncertain. It is therefore vital that any robotic solution be capable of robustly responding to uncertainties. The problems are compounded further by contamination risks, which typically mean that once deployed, human interaction with the robot will be limited at best, autonomy and fault tolerance are therefore important.

The need for RAS in the nuclear industry is spread across the entire fuel cycle: reactor operations; new build reactors; decommissioning and waste storage and this Programme will address generic problems across all these areas. It is anticipated that the research will have a significant impact on many other areas of robotics: space, sub-sea, mining, bomb-disposal and health care, for example and cross sector initiatives will be pursued to ensure that there is a two-way transfer of knowledge and technology between these sectors, which have many challenges in common with the nuclear industry.

The work will build on the robotics and nuclear engineering expertise available within the three academic organisations, who are each involved in cutting-edge, internationally leading research in relevant areas. This expertise will be complemented by the industrial and technology transfer experience and expertise of the National Nuclear Laboratory who have a proven track record of successfully delivering innovation in to the nuclear industry.

The partners in the Programme will work jointly to develop new RAS related technologies (hardware and software), with delivery of nuclear focused demonstrators that will illustrate the successful outcomes of the Programme. Thus we will provide the nuclear supply chain and end-users with the confidence to apply RAS in the nuclear sector.

To develop RAS technology that is suitable for the nuclear industry, it is essential that the partners work closely with the nuclear supply chain. To achieve this, the Programme will be based in west Cumbria, the centre of much of the UK's nuclear industry. Working with researchers at the home campuses of the academic institutions, the Programme will create a clear pipeline that propels early stage research from TRL 1 through to industrially relevant technology at TRL 3/4. Utilising the established mechanisms already available in west Cumbria, this technology can then be taken through to TRL 9 and commercial deployment.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.man.ac.uk