To tackle the dangerous task of managing used nuclear material one company is looking to virtual reality (VR) technology to make the job safer and easier.
Cumbria-based company Createc is leading a £1.5 million software development project which will see robots used to enter unfamiliar nuclear sites and dismantle dangerous radioactive equipment. This will be assisted by the use of VR to give a human operator more visibility and precise control over the robot. Historically, large, purpose-built robots have been used to handle the decommissioning work, but Createc believes there is a cheaper and more reusable solution.
Talking about the project Matt Mellor, a director at Createc stated: “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,” before going on to describe how the robots will make use of a combination of 3D sensors and an algorithm known as SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation And Mapping) to achieve this end goal. Mellor added: “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 the sensors.”
Thanks to the software being used, the robot will be able to work out where it is in an environment, and provide information to the operator on its posture. From here, the operator who is using VR to control the robot, will be able to carry out the decommissioning work from a safe distance without the risk of any nuclear reaction causing damage. Createc have already been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to help with the image-mapping process of locations such as Sellafield and even Fukushima in Japan.
Createc, who development applied imaging and sensing technology, is receiving funding from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in partnership with Cumbrian nuclear decommissioning site Sellafield, and Innovate UK. The project also involves OC Robotics, Red Engineering Design, Structure Vision, React Engineering and UKEA, and is part of a competition organised by the NDA. The successful project, of which there are five in the running down from fifteen, will receive a prize of £8.5 million to develop their decommissioning solution for used nuclear material.
Future developments on this story will be covered as they are released so keep reading VRFocus for more.