11 December 2017 11:47

New national hubs that are pioneering research into robotics for nuclear environments will benefit from Lancaster University expertise.

Lancaster is partner in two of four research hubs recently announced as part of a £44.5 million investment, over three and half years, managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The hubs will develop robotic solutions to enable safer working environments in the areas of off-shore energy, nuclear energy and space, opening up new cross disciplinary opportunities which are not currently available.

The award is part of £68 million awarded from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to support research and innovation projects in robotics and artificial intelligent systems.

Professor James Taylor and Dr Allahyar Montazeri, from Lancaster University’s Engineering Department, will work as part of the ‘National Centre for Nuclear Robotics’ (NCNR), which is led by the University of Birmingham.

Professor Taylor and Dr Montazeri will develop new control systems and adaptive algorithms for robots working on complex tasks in extreme environments – such as waste handling, cutting, navigation and other manoeuvres related to decommissioning radioactive sites. In addition, their work will also include the development of devices incorporating these technologies.

Dr Montazeri said: “These awards are an exceptional opportunity evidencing how well the nuclear group in Lancaster’s Engineering Department is performing in the areas relating to decommissioning and decontamination.

“Our expertise in dynamics and control puts us in a great position to make significant contribution to the design and development of advanced control techniques.”

Professor James Taylor said: “Our involvement in the NCNR will enable us to advance our research into our robotic manipulator test bed, as well as the implementation of novel control systems designed to deal with the challenging problems arising in nuclear robotics.”

Lancaster is also a partner in the ‘Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear’ (RAIN), led by the University of Manchester. The RAIN hub involves robotics and nuclear engineering experts across the UK and International partners from the US, Italy and Japan. It will undertake world-leading research and develop innovative technologies to address the challenges facing the nuclear industry, from decommissioning and waste management to fusion, plant life extension and new build.

Lancaster’s Professor Malcolm Joyce will work as part of RAIN.

He said: “The RAIN hub is an exciting development in which we will focus on the sensing capabilities of robotic platforms with nuclear applications, enabling new radiation sensing techniques to be deployed remotely and autonomously in some of the most challenging environments in the world.”

Announced at Innovate 2017 by Climate Change and Industry Minister Claire Perry, the awards are part of the Government’s £93 million funding for the robotics and AI in extreme environments programme through the ISCF, which was announced in the Budget of April 2017.

They will be national Hubs delivering internationally-leading research and will be supported by an additional £51.6 million from commercial and international partners. The UK Space Agency is co-funding one of the Hubs.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC Chief Executive, said: “These new Robotics Hubs will draw on the country’s research talent to nurture new developments in the field of robotics and provide the foundations on which innovative technologies can be built. The resulting outcomes from this research will allow us to explore environments that are too dangerous for humans to enter without risking injury or ill-health. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is helping us achieve a joined up approach to research, discovery and innovation.”

Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, said: “These pioneering projects driven by the very best minds in UK research and industry exemplify the huge potential of what can be achieved through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the long-term benefits for the UK economy. These are just the first competitions in robotics and AI, there will be further opportunities for businesses in the coming months.”

NERC's Chief Executive, Professor Duncan Wingham said: “These sensors will help us to better understand our oceans, helping us to manage them sustainably for the future. The projects will develop ambitious new technologies that work in hazardous and extreme environments, maintaining the UK's world-class status in marine robotics. Other industries, such as the water, aquaculture and industrial waste, are also likely to benefit from these technologies.”

The ISCF is a strategic element of the Government’s Industrial Strategy that aims to ensure the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world for science and innovation.

Innovate UK and the Research Councils are taking a leading role in delivering this funding, operating across the country, to ensure the UK secures maximum benefit from science and innovation.