Special Issue "Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK"

A special issue of Robotics (ISSN 2218-6581). This special issue belongs to the section "Industrial Robots & Automation".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Simon Watson
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, The University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
Interests: mechatronics; novel and biologically-inspired robotics; control of robotic systems; wireless sensor networks for robot navigation; multi-sensor data fusion and SLAM
Prof. Dr. Barry Lennox
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
Interests: control of robotic systems; robot navigation; mechatronics; autonomous robotic systems
Prof. Dr. Manuel Giuliani
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Bristol Robotics Laboratory, University of the West of England, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
Interests: human-robot interaction; social robotics; natural language processing; multimodal fusion
Prof. Dr. Maurice Fallon
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Royal Society University Research Fellow, The University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Interests: probabilistic localization and mapping; state estimation; dynamic motion planning and control; sensor fusion; multi-sensor SLAM

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Hazardous environments can be found in many industrial application areas, including nuclear, oil and gas, space and mining. The inspection, maintenance and repair of assets in these environments can often only be achieved using robotic platforms due to safety or access restrictions. For many of these application areas, the adoption of robotic technology is likely to secure long-term commercial and sustainable viability.

A significant amount of research is being conducted in the UK to develop robotic solutions to overcome some of the challenges faced in these hazardous environments through the four-year Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s “Robotics for a Safer World” scheme. This Special Issue aims to disseminate and promote the advanced research developments generated by this scheme in the areas of robotics, autonomous systems, integrated sensing and mission planning with an emphasis on real-world deployments.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Design of ground, aerial and aquatic robots for inspection, maintenance or repair;
  • Human–robot interaction (HRI) systems for robot tele-operation;
  • Advanced sensing and sensor fusion;
  • Autonomous systems for navigation and exploration;
  • Field trials of robotic systems.

Prof. Dr. Simon Watson
Prof. Dr. Barry Lennox
Prof. Dr. Manuel Giulianni
Prof. Dr. Maurice Fallon
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Robotics is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • mobile robots
  • aerial robots/UAV
  • underwater robots
  • tele-operated robots
  • inspection robots
  • advanced sensing
  • multi-sensor data fusion and SLAM
  • mechatronics
  • autonomous systems
  • navigation and exploration
  • control of robotic systems
  • field deployment of robots
  • path planning
  • manipulators
  • robot design
  • extreme environments
  • nuclear robots
  • space robots
  • oil & gas robots
  • mining robots
  • human-robot interaction
  • vision and perception

Published Papers (17 papers)

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Research

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Article
Towards the Determination of Safe Operating Envelopes for Autonomous UAS in Offshore Inspection Missions
Robotics 2021, 10(3), 97; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10030097 - 28 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1611
Abstract
A drive to reduce costs, carbon emissions, and the number of required personnel in the offshore energy industry has led to proposals for the increased use of autonomous/robotic systems for many maintenance tasks. There are questions over how such missions can be shown [...] Read more.
A drive to reduce costs, carbon emissions, and the number of required personnel in the offshore energy industry has led to proposals for the increased use of autonomous/robotic systems for many maintenance tasks. There are questions over how such missions can be shown to be safe. A corollary exists in the manned aviation world for helicopter–ship operations where a test pilot attempts to operate from a ship under a range of wind conditions and provides subjective feedback on the level of difficulty encountered. This defines the ship–helicopter operating limit envelope (SHOL). Due to the cost of creating a SHOL there has been considerable research activity to demonstrate that much of this process can be performed virtually. Unmanned vehicles, however, have no test pilot to provide feedback. This paper therefore explores the possibility of adapting manned simulation techniques to the unmanned world to demonstrate that a mission is safe. Through flight modelling and simulation techniques it is shown that operating envelopes can be created for an oil rig inspection task and that, by using variable performance specifications, these can be tailored to suit the level of acceptable risk. The operating envelopes produced provide condensed and intelligible information regarding the environmental conditions under which the UAS can perform the task. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Communication
Variational AutoEncoder to Identify Anomalous Data in Robots
Robotics 2021, 10(3), 93; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10030093 - 21 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1421
Abstract
For robotic systems involved in challenging environments, it is crucial to be able to identify faults as early as possible. In challenging environments, it is not always possible to explore all of the fault space, thus anomalous data can act as a broader [...] Read more.
For robotic systems involved in challenging environments, it is crucial to be able to identify faults as early as possible. In challenging environments, it is not always possible to explore all of the fault space, thus anomalous data can act as a broader surrogate, where an anomaly may represent a fault or a predecessor to a fault. This paper proposes a method for identifying anomalous data from a robot, whilst using minimal nominal data for training. A Monte Carlo ensemble sampled Variational AutoEncoder was utilised to determine nominal and anomalous data through reconstructing live data. This was tested on simulated anomalies of real data, demonstrating that the technique is capable of reliably identifying an anomaly without any previous knowledge of the system. With the proposed system, we obtained an F1-score of 0.85 through testing. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
A Multiple Level-of-Detail 3D Data Transmission Approach for Low-Latency Remote Visualisation in Teleoperation Tasks
Robotics 2021, 10(3), 89; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10030089 - 14 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1522
Abstract
In robotic teleoperation, the knowledge of the state of the remote environment in real time is paramount. Advances in the development of highly accurate 3D cameras able to provide high-quality point clouds appear to be a feasible solution for generating live, up-to-date virtual [...] Read more.
In robotic teleoperation, the knowledge of the state of the remote environment in real time is paramount. Advances in the development of highly accurate 3D cameras able to provide high-quality point clouds appear to be a feasible solution for generating live, up-to-date virtual environments. Unfortunately, the exceptional accuracy and high density of these data represent a burden for communications requiring a large bandwidth affecting setups where the local and remote systems are particularly geographically distant. This paper presents a multiple level-of-detail (LoD) compression strategy for 3D data based on tree-like codification structures capable of compressing a single data frame at multiple resolutions using dynamically configured parameters. The level of compression (resolution) of objects is prioritised based on: (i) placement on the scene; and (ii) the type of object. For the former, classical point cloud fitting and segmentation techniques are implemented; for the latter, user-defined prioritisation is considered. The results obtained are compared using a single LoD (whole-scene) compression technique previously proposed by the authors. Results showed a considerable improvement to the transmitted data size and updated frame rate while maintaining low distortion after decompression. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Simulating Ionising Radiation in Gazebo for Robotic Nuclear Inspection Challenges
Robotics 2021, 10(3), 86; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10030086 - 07 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2131
Abstract
The utilisation of robots in hazardous nuclear environments has potential to reduce risk to humans. However, historical use has been largely limited to specific missions rather than broader industry-wide adoption. Testing and verification of robotics in realistic scenarios is key to gaining stakeholder [...] Read more.
The utilisation of robots in hazardous nuclear environments has potential to reduce risk to humans. However, historical use has been largely limited to specific missions rather than broader industry-wide adoption. Testing and verification of robotics in realistic scenarios is key to gaining stakeholder confidence but hindered by limited access to facilities that contain radioactive materials. Simulations offer an alternative to testing with actual radioactive sources, provided they can readily describe the behaviour of robotic systems and ionising radiation within the same environment. This work presents a quick and easy way to generate simulated but realistic deployment scenarios and environments which include ionising radiation, developed to work within the popular robot operating system compatible Gazebo physics simulator. Generated environments can be evolved over time, randomly or user-defined, to simulate the effects of degradation, corrosion or to alter features of certain objects. Interaction of gamma radiation sources within the environment, as well as the response of simulated detectors attached to mobile robots, is verified against the MCNP6 Monte Carlo radiation transport code. The benefits these tools provide are highlighted by inclusion of three real-world nuclear sector environments, providing the robotics community with opportunities to assess the capabilities of robotic systems and autonomous functionalities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Robot-Assisted Glovebox Teleoperation for Nuclear Industry
Robotics 2021, 10(3), 85; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10030085 - 03 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2071
Abstract
The nuclear industry has some of the most extreme environments in the world, with radiation levels and extremely harsh conditions restraining human access to many facilities. One method for enabling minimal human exposure to hazards under these conditions is through the use of [...] Read more.
The nuclear industry has some of the most extreme environments in the world, with radiation levels and extremely harsh conditions restraining human access to many facilities. One method for enabling minimal human exposure to hazards under these conditions is through the use of gloveboxes that are sealed volumes with controlled access for performing handling. While gloveboxes allow operators to perform complex handling tasks, they put operators at considerable risk from breaking the confinement and, historically, serious examples including punctured gloves leading to lifetime doses have occurred. To date, robotic systems have had relatively little impact on the industry, even though it is clear that they offer major opportunities for improving productivity and significantly reducing risks to human health. This work presents the challenges of robotic and AI solutions for nuclear gloveboxes, and introduces a step forward for bringing cutting-edge technology to gloveboxes. The problem statement and challenges are highlighted and then an integrated demonstrator is proposed for robotic handling in nuclear gloveboxes for nuclear material handling. The proposed approach spans from tele-manipulation to shared autonomy, computer vision solutions for robotic manipulation to machine learning solutions for condition monitoring. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
The Operation of UAV Propulsion Motors in the Presence of High External Magnetic Fields
Robotics 2021, 10(2), 79; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10020079 - 09 Jun 2021
Viewed by 1926
Abstract
The operation and maintenance of converter stations (also known as valve halls) in high voltage DC (HVDC) grids is a key element in long-term, reliable and stable operation, especially in inherently adverse offshore environments. However, the nature of the electromagnetic field environment inside [...] Read more.
The operation and maintenance of converter stations (also known as valve halls) in high voltage DC (HVDC) grids is a key element in long-term, reliable and stable operation, especially in inherently adverse offshore environments. However, the nature of the electromagnetic field environment inside HVDC valve halls presents a challenge for the operation of traditional off-shelf inspection robots. In this paper, the impact of the external magnetic field on the operation of an inspection UAV’s propulsion motors is assessed. An experimental method is proposed to simulate the maximum magnetic field interference to off-shelf UAV motors, which can be used to identify their suitability for use in HVDC valve halls inspection robots. The paper’s experimental results compare the performance of direct torque control and field-oriented control algorithms for propulsion motors under the influence of external magnetic flux. Under the influence of a 177 mT external magnetic field, it was found that using direct torque control, the motor rotational velocity steady-state error was up to 55%. With field-oriented control, the steady-state error was 0%, however the peak-to-peak current draw increased by up to 567%. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Robotic Exploration of an Unknown Nuclear Environment Using Radiation Informed Autonomous Navigation
Robotics 2021, 10(2), 78; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10020078 - 24 May 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 3360
Abstract
This paper describes a novel autonomous ground vehicle that is designed for exploring unknown environments which contain sources of ionising radiation, such as might be found in a nuclear disaster site or a legacy nuclear facility. While exploring the environment, it is important [...] Read more.
This paper describes a novel autonomous ground vehicle that is designed for exploring unknown environments which contain sources of ionising radiation, such as might be found in a nuclear disaster site or a legacy nuclear facility. While exploring the environment, it is important that the robot avoids radiation hot spots to minimise breakdowns. Broken down robots present a real problem: they not only cause the mission to fail but they can block access routes for future missions. Until now, such robots have had no autonomous gamma radiation avoidance capabilities. New software algorithms are presented that allow radiation measurements to be converted into a format in which they can be integrated into the robot’s navigation system so that it can actively avoid receiving a high radiation dose during a mission. An unmanned ground vehicle was fitted with a gamma radiation detector and an autonomous navigation package that included the new radiation avoidance software. The full system was evaluated experimentally in a complex semi-structured environment that contained two radiation sources. In the experiment, the robot successfully identified both sources and avoided areas that were found to have high levels of radiation while navigating between user defined waypoints. This advancement in the state-of-the-art has the potential to deliver real benefit to the nuclear industry, in terms of both increased chance of mission success and reduction of the reliance on human operatives to perform tasks in dangerous radiation environments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
An Overview of Verification and Validation Challenges for Inspection Robots
Robotics 2021, 10(2), 67; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10020067 - 29 Apr 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2871
Abstract
The advent of sophisticated robotics and AI technology makes sending humans into hazardous and distant environments to carry out inspections increasingly avoidable. Being able to send a robot, rather than a human, into a nuclear facility or deep space is very appealing. However, [...] Read more.
The advent of sophisticated robotics and AI technology makes sending humans into hazardous and distant environments to carry out inspections increasingly avoidable. Being able to send a robot, rather than a human, into a nuclear facility or deep space is very appealing. However, building these robotic systems is just the start and we still need to carry out a range of verification and validation tasks to ensure that the systems to be deployed are as safe and reliable as possible. Based on our experience across three research and innovation hubs within the UK’s “Robots for a Safer World” programme, we present an overview of the relevant techniques and challenges in this area. As the hubs are active across nuclear, offshore, and space environments, this gives a breadth of issues common to many inspection robots. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Implementation and Evaluation of a Semi-Autonomous Hydraulic Dual Manipulator for Cutting Pipework in Radiologically Active Environments
Robotics 2021, 10(2), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10020062 - 27 Apr 2021
Viewed by 2000
Abstract
We describe the implementation of a bespoke two arm hydraulically actuated robotic platform which is used to semi-autonomously cut approximately 50 mm diameter pipes of three different materials: cardboard, ABS plastic and aluminium. The system is designed to be utilised within radiologically active [...] Read more.
We describe the implementation of a bespoke two arm hydraulically actuated robotic platform which is used to semi-autonomously cut approximately 50 mm diameter pipes of three different materials: cardboard, ABS plastic and aluminium. The system is designed to be utilised within radiologically active environments where human access is limited due to dose limits and thus remote operation is greatly beneficial. The remotely located operator selects the object from an image via a bespoke algorithm featuring a COTS 3D vision system, along with the desired positions for gripping with one manipulator, and cutting with the other. A pseudo-Jacobian inverse kinematic technique and a programmable automation controller are used to achieve the appropriate joint positions within the dual arm robotic platform. In this article, we present the latest developments to the system and the lessons learnt from the new cutting experiments with a reciprocating saw. A comparison to tele-operated control and manual cutting is also made, with this technique shown to be slower than manual cutting, but faster than pure tele-operational control, where the requirements for highly trained users and operator fatigue are further deleterious factors. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Autonomous Elbow Controller for Differential Drive In-Pipe Robots
Robotics 2021, 10(1), 28; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10010028 - 02 Feb 2021
Viewed by 2170
Abstract
The inspection of legacy nuclear facilities to aid in decommissioning is a world wide issue. One of the challenges is the characterisation of pipe networks within them. This paper presents an autonomous control system for the navigation of these unknown pipe networks, specifically [...] Read more.
The inspection of legacy nuclear facilities to aid in decommissioning is a world wide issue. One of the challenges is the characterisation of pipe networks within them. This paper presents an autonomous control system for the navigation of these unknown pipe networks, specifically focusing on elbows. The controller utilises three low-cost feeler sensors to navigate the FURO II robot around 150 mm short elbows. The controller is shown to allow the robot to safely navigate around an elbow on all 39 attempts comparing that with the brute force method which only completed five of the nine attempts and damaging the robot. This shows the advantages of the proposed controller. A new metric (Impulse) is also proposed to compare the extra force applied to the robot over the time it is slipping in the elbow due to the errors in the drive unit speeds. Using this metric, the controller is shown to decrease the Impulse applied to the robot by 213.97 Ns when compared to the brute force method. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Unmanned Aerial Drones for Inspection of Offshore Wind Turbines: A Mission-Critical Failure Analysis
Robotics 2021, 10(1), 26; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10010026 - 01 Feb 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3412
Abstract
With increasing global investment in offshore wind energy and rapid deployment of wind power technologies in deep water hazardous environments, the in-service inspection of wind turbines and their related infrastructure plays an important role in the safe and efficient operation of wind farm [...] Read more.
With increasing global investment in offshore wind energy and rapid deployment of wind power technologies in deep water hazardous environments, the in-service inspection of wind turbines and their related infrastructure plays an important role in the safe and efficient operation of wind farm fleets. The use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)—commonly known as “drones”—for remote inspection of wind energy infrastructure has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Drones have significant potential to reduce not only the number of times that personnel will need to travel to and climb up the wind turbines, but also the amount of heavy lifting equipment required to carry out the dangerous inspection works. Drones can also shorten the duration of downtime needed to detect defects and collect diagnostic information from the entire wind farm. Despite all these potential benefits, the drone-based inspection technology in the offshore wind industry is still at an early stage of development and its reliability has yet to be proven. Any unforeseen failure of the drone system during its mission may cause an interruption in inspection operations, and thereby, significant reduction in the electricity generated by wind turbines. In this paper, we propose a semiquantitative reliability analysis framework to identify and evaluate the criticality of mission failures—at both system and component levels—in inspection drones, with the goal of lowering the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs as well as improving personnel safety in offshore wind farms. Our framework is built based upon two well-established failure analysis methodologies, namely, fault tree analysis (FTA) and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA). It is then tested and verified on a drone prototype, which was developed in the laboratory for taking aerial photography and video of both onshore and offshore wind turbines. The most significant failure modes and underlying root causes within the drone system are identified, and the effects of the failures on the system’s operation are analysed. Finally, some innovative solutions are proposed on how to minimize the risks associated with mission failures in inspection drones. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Reliability and Safety of Autonomous Systems Based on Semantic Modelling for Self-Certification
Robotics 2021, 10(1), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10010010 - 03 Jan 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2150
Abstract
A novel modelling paradigm for online diagnostics and prognostics for autonomous systems is presented. A model for the autonomous system being diagnosed is designed using a logic-based formalism. The model supports the run-time ability to verify that the autonomous system is safe and [...] Read more.
A novel modelling paradigm for online diagnostics and prognostics for autonomous systems is presented. A model for the autonomous system being diagnosed is designed using a logic-based formalism. The model supports the run-time ability to verify that the autonomous system is safe and reliable for operation within a dynamic environment. The paradigm is based on the philosophy that there are different types of semantic relationships between the states of different parts of the system. A finite state automaton is devised for each sensed component and some of the non-sensed components. To capture the interdependencies of components within such a complex robotic platform, automatons were related to each other by semantic relationships. Modality was utilised by the formalism to abstract the relationships and to add measures for the possibility and uncertainty of the relationships. The complexity of the model was analysed to evaluate its scalability and applicability to other systems. The results demonstrate that the complexity is not linear and a computational time of 10 ms was required to achieve run-time diagnostics for 2200 KB of knowledge for complex system interdependences. The ability to detect and mitigate hardware related failures was demonstrated within a confined space autonomous operation. Our findings provide evidence of the applicability of our approach for the significant challenge of run-time safety compliance and reliability in autonomous systems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Optimal Grasping Pose Synthesis in a Constrained Environment
Robotics 2021, 10(1), 4; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10010004 - 26 Dec 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1735
Abstract
In the last few decades, several approaches have been presented to accomplish tasks with robots or autonomous systems in a glovebox; nevertheless, in nuclear facilities, risky operations are still executed by humans that guarantee a high manipulation capability and dexterity. Inside the gloveboxes, [...] Read more.
In the last few decades, several approaches have been presented to accomplish tasks with robots or autonomous systems in a glovebox; nevertheless, in nuclear facilities, risky operations are still executed by humans that guarantee a high manipulation capability and dexterity. Inside the gloveboxes, robotic devices have to operate in cluttered environments, or environments with limited space for movement; therefore, it is of significant interest to identify grasping poses that are feasible within such constrained environments. In this paper, we present and experimentally evaluate a strategy to synthesise optimal grasps considering geometric primitives for a manipulation systems in a constrained environment. The novel strategy has been experimentally evaluated in a cluttered environment (as a glovebox mock-up) with realistic objects, and the efficacy of the proposed grasping algorithm is proposed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
The Design of Prometheus: A Reconfigurable UAV for Subterranean Mine Inspection
Robotics 2020, 9(4), 95; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics9040095 - 18 Nov 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2596
Abstract
The inspection of legacy mine workings is a difficult, time consuming, costly task, as traditional methods require multiple boreholes to be drilled to allow sensors to be placed in the voids. Discrete sampling of the void from static locations also means that full [...] Read more.
The inspection of legacy mine workings is a difficult, time consuming, costly task, as traditional methods require multiple boreholes to be drilled to allow sensors to be placed in the voids. Discrete sampling of the void from static locations also means that full coverage of the area cannot be achieved and occluded areas and side tunnels may not be fully mapped. The aim of the Prometheus project is to develop an autonomous robotic solution that is able to inspect the mine workings from a single borehole. This paper presents the challenges of operating autonomous aerial vehicles in such an environment, as well as physically entering the void with an autonomous robot. The paper address how some of these challenges can be overcome with bespoke design and intelligent controllers. It details the design of a reconfigurable UAV that is able to be deployed through a 150 mm borehole and unfold to a tip-to-tip diameter of 780 mm, allowing it to carry a payload suitable for a full autonomous mission. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Article
Robotic Development for the Nuclear Environment: Challenges and Strategy
Robotics 2020, 9(4), 94; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics9040094 - 13 Nov 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1634
Abstract
Improvements in robotics and artificial intelligence have enabled robotics to be developed for use in a nuclear environment. However, the harsh environment and dangerous nature of the tasks pose several challenges in deploying robots. There may be some unique requirements for a nuclear [...] Read more.
Improvements in robotics and artificial intelligence have enabled robotics to be developed for use in a nuclear environment. However, the harsh environment and dangerous nature of the tasks pose several challenges in deploying robots. There may be some unique requirements for a nuclear application that a commercial system does not meet, such as radiation effects, the needs remote maintenance and deployment constraints. This paper reviews the main challenges that robots need to face to be deployed in a nuclear environment, examines the development and assessment processes required in the nuclear industry, and highlights the assistance that is available for developers. Due to comparable environments and operating restrictions, the development process employed by the nuclear industry has a similar structure as that employed by NASA and the ESA for space exploration. The nuclear industry has introduced a number of development support programs, such as Innovate and Game Changers, to fund and mentor developers through the initial design stages to proving viability in a representative independently assessed test environment. Robust and reliable technologies, which may also have application beyond the original nuclear application, are being successfully developed and tested, enabling robotics in making nuclear operations safer and more efficient. Additional development sources are given in the text. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Review

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Review
A Suite of Robotic Solutions for Nuclear Waste Decommissioning
Robotics 2021, 10(4), 112; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10040112 - 07 Oct 2021
Viewed by 808
Abstract
Dealing safely with nuclear waste is an imperative for the nuclear industry. Increasingly, robots are being developed to carry out complex tasks such as perceiving, grasping, cutting, and manipulating waste. Radioactive material can be sorted, and either stored safely or disposed of appropriately, [...] Read more.
Dealing safely with nuclear waste is an imperative for the nuclear industry. Increasingly, robots are being developed to carry out complex tasks such as perceiving, grasping, cutting, and manipulating waste. Radioactive material can be sorted, and either stored safely or disposed of appropriately, entirely through the actions of remotely controlled robots. Radiological characterisation is also critical during the decommissioning of nuclear facilities. It involves the detection and labelling of radiation levels, waste materials, and contaminants, as well as determining other related parameters (e.g., thermal and chemical), with the data visualised as 3D scene models. This paper overviews work by researchers at the QMUL Centre for Advanced Robotics (ARQ), a partner in the UK EPSRC National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR), a consortium working on the development of radiation-hardened robots fit to handle nuclear waste. Three areas of nuclear-related research are covered here: human–robot interfaces for remote operations, sensor delivery, and intelligent robotic manipulation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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Technical Note
Engineering Interoperable, Plug-and-Play, Distributed, Robotic Control Systems for Futureproof Fusion Power Plants
Robotics 2021, 10(3), 108; https://doi.org/10.3390/robotics10030108 - 16 Sep 2021
Viewed by 1046
Abstract
Maintenance and inspection systems for future fusion power plants (e.g., STEP and DEMO) are expected to require the integration of hundreds of systems from multiple suppliers, with lifetime expectancies of several decades, where requirements evolve over time and obsolescence management is required. There [...] Read more.
Maintenance and inspection systems for future fusion power plants (e.g., STEP and DEMO) are expected to require the integration of hundreds of systems from multiple suppliers, with lifetime expectancies of several decades, where requirements evolve over time and obsolescence management is required. There are significant challenges associated with the integration, deployment, and maintenance of very large-scale robotic systems incorporating devices from multiple suppliers, where each may utilise bespoke, non-standardised control systems and interfaces. Additionally, the unstructured, experimental, or unknown operational conditions frequently result in new or changing system requirements, meaning extension and adaptation are necessary. Whilst existing control frameworks (e.g., ROS, OPC-UA) allow for the robust integration of complex robotic systems, they are not compatible with highly efficient maintenance and extension in the face of changing requirements and obsolescence issues over decades-long periods. We present the CorteX software framework as well as results showing its effectiveness in addressing the above issues, whilst being demonstrated through hardware that is representative of real-world fusion applications. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Robots for Hazardous Environments in the UK)
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