‘Spot’ the robot proves itself in a radioactive area

4th September 2023
Paige West

‘Spot’ is a robotic quadruped from Boston Dynamics described as a ‘mobile agile robot’. It negotiated pitch-black conditions and several flights of stairs to complete this latest challenge.

At Dounreay its mission was 2-fold; to map out the 4-storey cell, collecting important radiological data for the team to use when planning the decommissioning of the facility; and to gain useful experience on how the robot and survey equipment should be used. It’s an incredible achievement and one of the first of its kind in western Europe.

A team of 12 has been supporting the robot trials. This includes Dounreay staff led by Project Manager Bernie Jones, as well as staff from Createc, the systems integrator for Spot, who are working with Dounreay on a series of seven use cases for the robot to be carried out over the next few months.

The site joiners constructed a wooden mock-up of the evaporator cell entrance and temporary containment in a clean area to test the abilities of the robot and train the operators who would support Spot, before the work moved into the evaporator cell.

Swathed in its protective suit, once inside the evaporator cell the robot collected data to give the team a complete 3-dimensional map of the area. It also collected radiological data to create a full dosimetry map showing areas of higher radioactivity, which will enable the team to develop a radiological fingerprint.

Bernie Jones said: “By doing the initial groundwork, Spot has shown us the hazards that might affect workers who are tasked with the decommissioning, We will use the data to ensure that we mitigate those hazards and keep our people safe.

“This work also has the potential to save money on our decommissioning investigation.”

Createc’s Energy MD, Will Newsom, said: “Over the course of five days, we deployed two Spots in multiple entries to the cell. The environment we were exploring was complex as it had not been accessed in over 20 years, so the team didn’t know what to expect: that’s what made the deployment so challenging.

“Using our innovative NV-Explore sensor, the team captured 3D radiation maps. At the same time, one Spot with a robotic arm was used to take several physical samples for lab analysis.

“The success of this project was due to the application of cutting-edge technology and the collaboration from all parties involved.”

Professor Melanie Brownridge, NDA Technology and Innovation Director said: “We were delighted to co-fund and support this exciting work with the team, recognising its potential applicability across the NDA group.

“Shared learning and collaboration across our group is essential to the successful delivery of our mission. We have many common challenges and the potential to learn and share the impact, benefitting from innovative approaches such as this is truly significant.”

Dounreay’s Managing Director Mark Rouse added: “I am really proud that Dounreay is pushing the boundaries of what existing technologies can do and in so doing opening up innovative pathways for the future that will keep our staff even more safe and improve our effectiveness at cleaning up this site.”

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