Atkins and COVVI to develop robotic bionic hand for nuclear sector

2nd June 2023
Kristian McCann

Atkins and prosthetic hand developer COVVI have signed an agreement to develop a robotic solution that delivers near-human dexterity, for use in nuclear environments.

Building on Atkins’ patented work to deploy collaborative robots in the nuclear sector, the two firms will adapt COVVI’s bionic hand, originally developed for people with an upper limb difference. The hand, or ‘end effector’, will be attached to a robotic arm and enable workers to perform dangerous manipulations remotely, even when a high level of dexterity is required. The innovative product will be integrated into Atkins’ collaborative robotic solutions in the nuclear sector, including its use in glovebox operations to handle nuclear materials and waste, removing the need for operators to place hands in gloveboxes.

The use of a bionic hand and application of COVVI’s expertise in biomimicry is expected to significantly increase durability and functionality compared to existing solutions while more closely replicating human dexterity. The remote control of robotics (teleoperation) will reduce the presence of humans in hazardous areas and enable glovebox operations to continue over longer periods of time, reducing risk and speeding up project delivery, as well as freeing up time for site operators to focus on other high priority, skilled activity.

Sam Stephens, Head of Digital, Nuclear, SNC-Lavalin, said, “Robotics hold huge potential for the nuclear sector and we expect their use to become increasingly common over the coming decade as the industry seeks to improve safety, increase efficiency and address increasing skills shortages.

“Working with COVVI to reconfigure their bionic hand for teleoperation combines our knowledge of nuclear, digital and robotics capabilities with COVVI’s expertise and world-leading prosthetics. It’s an example of how collaboration is crucial to help accelerate innovation and bring forward new solutions that address some of the sector’s biggest challenges swiftly and cost-effectively. The new robotic hand has the potential to reduce risk and improve productivity for the nuclear operators that we work with in partnership with around the world, and we look forward to seeing it deliver results soon.”

Simon Pollard, Group CEO at COVVI, said; “We are delighted to have finalised this partnership and share our plans to expand into the robotics market.

“The robotics market continues to develop at pace as it becomes more affordable, scalable, and customisable. With over 5 years developing our own world-leading, multi-articulated bionic hand, COVVI was Atkins’ preferred choice to partner with to introduce this state-of-the-art technology to the nuclear sector. We are excited about the opportunity to develop and implement innovative solutions to create safer, more efficient processes in hazardous environments intrinsic to the nuclear industry”

The two firms have been working together for the last six months to develop the integration between the robotic hand and collaborative robots such as Kinova’s Gen3 arm that Atkins uses to work in gloveboxes. Alongside this new solution, Atkins is also developing a digital twin to rehearse and pre-plan glovebox activity to increase efficiency.

Having collaborated on research and development over the course of 2022, COVVI and Atkins will now jointly develop and market a new variant of the COVVI Hand, optimised to meet the demanding requirements of the nuclear sector.

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