UK energy company gets £1.5m award for robotics innovation

Nuclear specialist Wood has secured about £1.5m funding after winning a prestigious competition to find the best new robotics solution ideas.


Wood has secured about £1.5m funding for robotics innovation – image courtesy of Wood Group.

The money is provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Innovative UK.

Wood and its supply chain will combine new data and control systems with state-of-the-art robotics to design a demonstrator system for cleaning and dismantling highly radioactive rooms or ‘cells’ at Sellafield in Cumbria, Europe’s most complex nuclear site.

The technologies used in Wood’s project include novel material handling solutions to reduce the risks of working at height, mixed reality headsets, a multi-fingered gripper allowing robots to grasp different objects, and a navigation system designed for missions to Mars that enables autonomous mapping where human access is impossible.

Bob MacDonald, chief executive of Wood’s Specialist Technical Solutions business, said: “Our innovative proposal for a fully remote solution removes the operator from a hazardous environment and is adaptable enough to tackle different tasks, many of which present unique challenges.

“Wood’s role is as an innovation integrator, bringing together ingenious ideas from industry and academia to define a new approach to the nuclear decommissioning challenge.”

Melanie Brownridge, the NDA’s head of technology, said the response from suppliers and academic institutions had been so promising, that the total amount available to the five chosen projects has been increased from £3m to £8.5m.

She added: “We were all incredibly excited by the quality and diversity of the submissions, which came from established nuclear organisations as well as industries working with us for the first time – such as space and defence sectors.”

Wood’s research partners are Airbus Defence and Space Ltd, Clicks and Links Ltd, Damavan Imaging SAS, Digital Concepts Engineering Ltd, IS-Instruments Ltd, I3D Robotics Ltd, The University of Lancaster, The University of Salford, Kawasaki UK Ltd and TWI.

Wood’s nuclear business employs more than 1,300 people in the North West of England, mainly at Knutsford and Birchwood in Cheshire and at Sellafield and Whitehaven in Cumbria.

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