EPSRC Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN) Hub at Sheffield

The Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN) Hub has been granted £11.9million from the Industrial Strategy
Challenge Fund (ISCF)

The Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN) Hub at Sheffield is part of a multi-university research centre, led by the University of Manchester and involving experts in robotics and nuclear engineering from the Universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Lancaster, Bristol and the UKAEA’s RACE centre.

RAIN's aims to create an engaging, inspiring and industry-driven community that will undertake world-leading research and develop innovative technologies that address the challenges posed by the entire nuclear industry from decommissioning and waste management to fusion, plant life extension and new build.

Experimental Arm Robot

Sheffield's key role is to coordinate RAIN's theme on human-robot-interaction (HRI) across the multi-university consortium, lead by Professor Sandor Veres, with a budget of about £1.3M within the RAIN Hub. The objective is to improve human-robot interaction by using virtual and augmented reality techniques and by high level commands based on the ‘knowledge’ of intelligent robots. This will involve "teaching" robots how to do their work and prescribe them the content of reports they need to provide after their work shifts. Most of this research is going to be carried out at the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Other current team members include Dr Jonathan Aitken, a Research Fellow at ACSE; Dr Richard French, Research Fellow at the Department of Physics and Astronomy; and David Stoddard, representative of Nuclear AMRC for the Sheffield RAIN Hub. RAIN will employ and engage 4 new PDRAs for 3.5 years on the topic of HRI between 2018-2021.

RAIN at Sheffield will be working with key nuclear partners across the industry, including major end-users: Sellafield Ltd, EDF Energy, AWE and Rolls Royce and through the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at Sheffield, and with organisations of all sizes across the nuclear supply chain, such as Createc, Nuvia, Jacobs and James Fisher Nuclear for example. International partners include US National Labs and universities, the Italian Institute of Technology and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency which provide opportunities for RAIN to address global challenges and to become an international centre of excellence in Nuclear Robotics.

Recently the Department of Automatic Control (ACSE) has worked with Sellafield Ltd and the universities of Liverpool and Surrey to develop new technologies for handling hazardous nuclear waste materials by autonomously operating robot arms, lead by Professor Sandor M Veres. As handling of radioactive materials can be a danger to human health, robotic systems have been in use with tele-operation in the past, not autonomously. It is however fair to say that current use of tele-operation is expensive in terms of labour costs and overall running costs and not as productive as it could be with the adoption of new techniques of artificial intelligence to be developed under Theme 3 in RAIN. Innovative intelligent robotic systems have so far had limited impact on the nuclear industry, now they offer considerable opportunities to improve productivity and reduce human risk.