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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R02572X/1
Title: National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR)
Principal Investigator: Stolkin, Professor R
Other Investigators:
Richards, Professor A Scott, Professor TB Pipe, Professor A
Althoefer, Professor K McDonald-Maier, Professor K Richardson, Professor TS
Herrmann, Professor G Montazeri, Dr A Neumann, Professor G
Jamone, Dr L Farkhatdinov, Dr II Leonardis, Professor A
Hansard, Dr ME Poslad, Dr S Cavallaro, Professor A
Stone, Professor R Melhuish, Professor C Taylor, Professor C
Mistry, Professor M Peer, Professor A Malkin, Dr RR
Hanheide, Professor MA Giuliani, Professor M
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Dr S Ehsan
Project Partners:
Atkins Atlas Elektronik UK AWE
BAE Systems EDF Eidos Education
Forth Engineering Ltd Haption IHI Corporation
Imitec Ltd Ionix Advanced Technologies Ltd Jacobs UK Limited
James Fisher Nuclear Limited Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) JET Propulsion Laboratory
Korea Atomic Energy Res Inst (KAERI) KUKA Robotics UK Limited National Nuclear Laboratory
National Physical Laboratory NPL NOC (Up to 31.10.2019) Nuclear Decomissioning Authority
Nuvia Limited Rolls-Royce Plc (UK) Rovtech Solutions
Royal Institution of Great Britain Shield Siemens
STFC Laboratories (Grouped) Synthotech Thales Ltd
The Shadow Robot Company Tohoku University Toshiba
Department: Metallurgy and Materials
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 02 October 2017 Ends: 01 April 2022 Value (£): 12,256,862
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Computer Graphics & Visual. Human-Computer Interactions
Instrumentation Eng. & Dev. Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Environment Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
18 Sep 2017 ISCF - Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Hub Full Bids Panel Meeting Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Nuclear facilities require a wide variety of robotics capabilities, engendering a variety of extreme RAI challenges. NCNR brings together a diverse consortium of experts in robotics, AI, sensors, radiation and resilient embedded systems, to address these complex problems.

In high gamma environments, human entries are not possible at all. In alpha-contaminated environments, air-fed suited human entries are possible, but engender significant secondary waste (contaminated suits), and reduced worker capability. We have a duty to eliminate the need for humans to enter such hazardous environments wherever technologically possible.

Hence, nuclear robots will typically be remote from human controllers, creating significant opportunities for advanced telepresence. However, limited bandwidth and situational awareness demand increased intelligence and autonomous control capabilities on the robot, especially for performing complex manipulations. Shared control, where both human and AI collaboratively control the robot, will be critical because i) safety-critical environments demand a human in the loop, however ii) complex remote actions are too difficult for a human to perform reliably and efficiently.

Before decommissioning can begin, and while it is progressing, characterization is needed. This can include 3D modelling of scenes, detection and recognition of objects and materials, as well as detection of contaminants, measurement of types and levels of radiation, and other sensing modalities such as thermal imaging. This will necessitate novel sensor design, advanced algorithms for robotic perception, and new kinds of robots to deploy sensors into hard-to-reach locations.

To carry out remote interventions, both situational awareness for the remote human operator, and also guidance of autonomous/semi-autonomous robotic actions, will need to be informed by real-time multi-modal vision and sensing, including: real-time 3D modelling and semantic understanding of objects and scenes; active vision in dynamic scenes and vision-guided navigation and manipulation.

The nuclear industry is high consequence, safety critical and conservative. It is therefore critically important to rigorously evaluate how well human operators can control remote technology to safely and efficiently perform the tasks that industry requires.

All NCNR research will be driven by a set of industry-defined use-cases, WP1. Each use-case is linked to industry-defined testing environments and acceptance criteria for performance evaluation in WP11. WP2-9 deliver a variety of fundamental RAI research, including radiation resilient hardware, novel design of both robotics and radiation sensors, advanced vision and perception algorithms, mobility and navigation, grasping and manipulation, multi-modal telepresence and shared control.

The project is based on modular design principles. WP10 develops standards for modularisation and module interfaces, which will be met by a diverse range of robotics, sensing and AI modules delivered by WPs2-9. WP10 will then integrate multiple modules onto a set of pre-commercial robot platforms, which will then be evaluated according to end-user acceptance criteria in WP11.

WP12 is devoted to technology transfer, in collaboration with numerous industry partners and the Shield Investment Fund who specialise in venture capital investment in RAI technologies, taking novel ideas through to fully fledged commercial deployments. Shield have ring-fenced £10million capital to run alongside all NCNR Hub research, to fund spin-out companies and industrialisation of Hub IP.

We have rich international involvement, including NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and Carnegie Melon National Robotics Engineering Center as collaborators in USA, and collaboration from Japan Atomic Energy Agency to help us carry out test-deployments of NCNR robots in the unique Fukushima mock-up testing facilities at the Naraha Remote Technology Development Center.
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Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk