Scientists developing robots to work in nuclear facilities

"If we are to be realistic about clearing up contaminated sites, then we have to invest in this type of technology," said robotics engineer Barry Lennox.
By Brooks Hays  |  Feb. 28, 2017 at 10:36 AM
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Feb. 28 (UPI) -- A new crop of robots are being prepared to do a job too dangers for humans -- cleaning up and decommissioning aging nuclear facilities.

Cleaning up nuclear facilities is an expensive proposition; it's also a dangerous one, involving a variety of tasks too dangerous for humans. Conditions in nuclear facilities are harsh and toxic, and for many of the cleaning tasks, robots are a necessity.

"If we are to be realistic about clearing up contaminated sites, then we have to invest in this type of technology," Barry Lennox, a professor of robotics at the University of Manchester, said in a news release. "These environments are some of the most extreme that exist, so the benefits of developing this technology can also apply to a wide range of other scenarios."

Robots employed in other industrial capacities aren't yet capable of the kinds of maneuvers and functionality required by nuclear decommissioning. However, a new crop of robots is on the way. British researchers are building robots with the right combination of competencies for work in dangerous nuclear facilities.

The robots must be able to perform simple tasks, like turning valves, while also tackling more difficult challenges, like navigating rough terrain and scaling staircases. Some robots will need to work underwater. The robots will be autonomous, so scientists are programming the bots to communicate with one another and solve problems.

Scientists will unveil prototypes in the coming years for testing in simulated settings and actual nuclear facilities. Researchers believe the technologies produced by their efforts will improve the performance of robots in similarly harsh settings and executing similarly complex tasks -- robots working in deep space or mines, executing search and rescue missions or disposing of bombs.

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