International Robotics Challenge demonstrates how robots can be used for inspections of nuclear facilities
Featured image by CISRO.
Co-hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and CSIRO’s Data61, the Robotics Challenge held in Australia on November 23, 2017 aims to demonstrate how robotics can be used to reliably undertake repetitive measurements of nuclear material in parts of nuclear facilities that may be difficult or unsafe for humans to access. The IAEA uses these important measurements to verify that countries are not misusing nuclear materials and facilities to develop nuclear weapons.
These measurements are part of a system of “safeguards” carried out by the IAEA to ensure countries adhere to international treaty commitments designed to and prevent illicit nuclear weapons programs.
The Robotics Challenge will see 12 teams from nine countries competing in two challenges categories — one task takes place on ground, and another on the surface of water — that simulate some of these vital inspection tasks normally undertaken manually by IAEA Safeguards Inspectors.
Andrey Sokolov, Technology Foresight Officer at the IAEA, said robots have the potential to carry out some of these inspection tasks currently conducted by inspectors.
“The Challenge aims to test the suitability of new robotic designs to help the IAEA fulfil some of its verification tasks more efficiently, freeing up inspectors to concentrate more on examining how facilities are being used. We’re excited to host this Challenge with the team of robotics experts at CSIRO’s Data61,” he said.
According the media release, the Robotics Challenge seeks to automate common tasks undertaken by IAEA inspectors that involve making repetitive measurements in areas that can be difficult to access, or with elevated radiation levels. Two categories of robotic platforms are specifically considered for this technology challenge:
- Challenge 1 Inspectors frequently use a small handheld optical instrument called the Improved Cerenkov Viewing Device (ICVD) to confirm the presence of spent fuel stored underwater. This challenge requires teams to mount this device inside a small robotised floating platform, which would autonomously propel itself across the surface of the pond, while stabilising the ICVD in a vertical position.
- Challenge 2 Inspectors conduct a routine task that includes counting containers, recording their ID tags and performing gamma measurements on some of them. This challenge requires team to create small unmanned vehicles / robotised rolling platforms able to assist the inspector by performing the following tasks: moving autonomously across a storage area, counting items of a specific geometry, recording their ID tags, and carrying specific IAEA instrument payloads.
As a co-host, Australia will not take part in the Robotics Challenge but participating teams hail from around the world including Hungary, Republic of Korea, Israel, Switzerland, USA, UK, Canada, Germany and Finland. The winning team will have the chance to receive funding and commercialise their technology through the IAEA.
Professor Dr Alberto Elfes, Chief Research Scientist & Group Leader for Robotics at CSIRO’s Data61, said that in addition to nuclear safeguards, the organisation’s world-leading Robotics Research Group was already making an impact in industries such as aerospace, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, biosecurity, and others.