Atomic energy body invests in £3m haptic robots

Technology must be suitable for use in nuclear environments

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The UK Atomic Energy Authority has spent £3m on haptic robotic technology suitable for use in nuclear environments.

A one-year contract has been awarded for the “supply, installation and commissioning of robotic manipulator arms” at the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) research facility. 

The robotic instruments will be equipped with haptic technology – sometimes known as 3D touch – which allows users to remotely experience tactile sensations. The robots will be used for training purposes. But UKAEA indicated that they must be capable of potentially working with toxic material.

“UKAEA wishes to procure, on behalf of RACE, up to three haptic dextrous manipulators, complete with electrical and controls systems, to deliver key aspects of a research and training programme,” said the contract notice. “The scope includes supply, installation, commissioning of the manipulators at a facility in the UK and training of operators.”

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It added: “Whilst the manipulators that are the subject of this procurement are not intended for deployment in nuclear environments, it is essential that devices offered are suited to such an environment to ensure the validity of the research and training programme. Therefore, the manipulators must be representative of devices that may be deployed in high radiation and contamination environments.”

The contract, worth £3.08m, began on 24 February and runs until 28 February 2022. It has been awarded to two suppliers: German firm Wälischmiller Engineering, and US-headquartered Veolia Nuclear Solutions.

Based in Oxfordshire, RACE is dedicated to researching and testing technologies for use in industries were work takes place in hazardous or challenging environment. As well as nuclear power, this includes the space, construction, chemical, and construction sectors.

“The technical hurdle is different for different physical environments and includes radiation, extreme temperature, limited access, vacuum and magnetic fields, but solutions will have common features,” the organisation’s website said. “The commercial imperative is to enable safe and cost-efficient operations.”

Government has previously explored the potential of using robotics and virtual reality tools to assist in the clean-up of buildings at the Sellafield power plant in Cumbria, some of which have been inaccessible for many years due to high levels of radiation.


Sam Trendall

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