Sellafield launches robotics competition
So-called extreme environments – environments that are hazardous to human beings – typify high-risk industries such as offshore energy, subsea engineering, deep mining, space exploration, and nuclear power/decommissioning. As such, they present a significant economic opportunity for robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and other connected technologies, such as sensors.
This is one reason why Innovate UK – part of UK Research & Innovation – has invested over £93 million in recent years in the development of innovative solutions, especially those that have cross-sector potential. The investments have been made via the Robotics for a Safer World Challenge, under the UK’s revamped Industrial Strategy.
Nuclear power station Sellafield certainly sees the potential. At a Cumbria event on 19 September, Sellafield Ltd launched a number of robotics innovation challenges to help clean up the industry.
Working alongside the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN) hub – one of four robotics hubs in the UK, which link university-based research with commercial opportunities – Sellafield is developing, testing and deploying new robotics systems that it hopes will be fit for safe operation in hazardous radioactive environments.
Remote working at height in hazardous zones, autonomous removal of nuclear material, and remote inspection of special nuclear material packages are three challenges that the company is looking to robotics innovators for help with, according to an announcement from the government.
Robotic systems are already cleaning the walls of a legacy nuclear storage facility at Sellafield, and extending radiological and contamination detection to restricted or hard-to-enter zones.
Dr Frank Allison from the Game Changers Innovation Programme, which supports, manages, and directs funds to the initiative, said, “The event highlighted the ways in which robotics and artificial intelligence can be used within Sellafield to support decommissioning.
“There were exhibitions of cutting-edge robotic technology, and three new exciting challenges are now open for the supply chain to find solutions to. It brought together people from a wide variety of organisations and industries, and we’re looking forward to nurturing new relationships and paving the way for some really innovative thinking.”
Planned decommissioning at Sellafield presents a significant risk to cost and schedule, due to the uncertainty of future operations, according to the Game Changers website. By providing “robust, tested solutions, the decommissioning risk can be reduced, providing savings against the baseline plan,” it says.
Innovators can present proofs of concept to the organisation via the Game Changers site.