In recent years, many radioactive sources have been lost or stolen during use or transportation. When the radioactive source is lost or stolen, it is challenging but imperative to quickly locate the source before it causes damage. Nowadays, source search based on fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can significantly improve search efficiency, but this approach has higher requirements for the activity of the uncontrolled radioactive source and the take-off sites. The aim of this study was to design and demonstrate a platform that uses low-cost multi-rotor UAVs to automatically and efficiently search for uncontrolled radioactive sources even with lower activity. The hardware of this platform consists of a multi-rotor UAV, radiation detection sensor, main control module, gimbal and camera, and ground control station. In the search process, the ground control station and UAV communicate wirelessly in real time. To accommodate different search scenarios, the study proposed three search algorithms with a theoretical comparison. Then, field experiments based on the traversal search algorithm showed that the search system based on multi-rotor UAVs could effectively and accurately conduct contour mapping of a region and locate the radioactive source with an error of 0.32 m. The platform and algorithms enable accurate and efficient searching of radioactive sources, providing an innovative demonstration of future environmental risk assessment and management.
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