The University of Birmingham is leading a consortium of eight universities, with £42m of new investment, to establish the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics.
The National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) is developing state-of-the-art robotics, sensing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies for nuclear industry applications.
The NCNR’s funding includes a major grant from the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which has recently invested £93m in robotics and AI for extreme environments.
NCNR also incorporates large contributions and collaboration from industry, research organisations and investment partners.
The nuclear challenge
Cleaning up the UK’s 4.9 million tonnes of legacy waste is the largest and most complex environmental remediation task in the whole of Europe, expected to take more than 100 years at estimated costs of £90-220bn.
Without significant advances beyond the current state-of-the-art in robotics and AI, one million entries of human workers in air-fed suits will be needed inside hazardous environments, and many higher radiation zones can only be dealt with by remote machinery.
In addition to decommissioning legacy nuclear sites, robotic systems are needed for monitoring, maintenance and Plant Life Extension (PLEX) in the UK’s current fleet of operating nuclear power stations.
Robots will also be an essential element in the design of new-build reactors. The nuclear industry is increasingly keen to embrace advanced robotics technologies, to make complex operations, in hazardous environments, safer, faster and cheaper.
Shaping the future of nuclear robotics
NCNR is highly cross-disciplinary, with research spanning radiation resilient systems, novel sensors, robotic vision and perception, autonomous navigation, advanced robotic manipulation, as well as issues of human-robot interfaces and human-centred design.
These are fundamental technologies, with application across numerous industries and applications outside of the nuclear domain.
The NCNR established the UK as an international leader in transferring advanced robotics and AI research developments into practical solutions for a safety-critical and high-consequence industry, improving the UK’s economic opportunities in a £1tn worldwide market.
The research has a global outlook, with internationally leading collaborators spanning Europe, the US and Asia.
Professor Rustam Stolkin, NCNR Director and Royal Society Industry Fellow for Nuclear Robotics, said: “The University of Birmingham, our academic and industry collaborators, and our international partners are delighted to receive this funding. We very much regard this as a beginning -the start of establishing the UK as a world leading centre of excellence for nuclear robotics”.
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