UWE professors to develop robots to tackle dangerous nuclear sites

The university has received £4.6m as part of a consortium to design and build the next generation of autonomous robotics for use in hazardous environments
13th March 2017
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The cost of cleaning up the UK’s existing nuclear facilities has been estimated to be between £95 billion and £219 billion over the next 120 years. So, the £4.6 million in grant funding received by the University of the West of England will prove invaluable in the research and development of a new generation of autonomous robotics for carrying out maintenance tasks in hazardous environments.

“This project will allow Bristol Robotics Laboratory researchers to… achieve valuable societal and environment impact for the UK”


Over the next 5 years, researchers will develop prototype robots with improved power, sensing, communications and processing power that will be able to sort and segregate waste materials. As well as benefiting the environment in terms of nuclear clean up, it’s expected that the robots will prove useful in other hostile environments such as space, sub-sea, and mining – or in situations such as bomb-disposal and healthcare which are dangerous or difficult for humans.

Tony Pipe, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at UWE Bristol and Deputy Director of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), says: “This project will allow Bristol Robotics Laboratory researchers to further develop, apply and then exploit their world-renowned expertise in advanced multi-robot and human-robot interaction systems to support this safety-critical domain, and hence achieve valuable societal and environment impact for the UK.”

Overcoming limitations

As part of a collaborative effort, Professor Alan Winfield and Professor Tony Pipe, both of UWE Bristol and the BRL, will contribute to the project alongside researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Birmingham as well as industrial partners Sellafield Ltd, EDF Energy, UKAEA and NuGen.

“This programme of work will enable us to fundamentally improve Robotic and Autonomous Systems capabilities”


As well as improving on the limitations of current technology, which includes relatively straightforward tasks such as turning valves, navigating staircases and moving over rough terrain – the researchers will develop systems which are able to address issues around grasping and manipulation, computer vision and perception.

And, most importantly, the new robots will be autonomous – able to operate without direct supervision by humans.

The University of Manchester’s Professor Barry Lennox, who is leading this project, adds: “This programme of work will enable us to fundamentally improve Robotic and Autonomous Systems capabilities, allowing technologies to be reliably deployed into harsh environments, keeping humans away from the dangers of radiation.”

You can find out more about the project on the UWE website. You can also stay up to date with the university’s latest research and news on Twitter by following them here: @UWEBristol.