Manchester experts designing AI robots to work in the most extreme places

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Experts from the University of Manchester are designing AI-powered robots to work in some of the most dangerous places on Earth and in space.

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Researchers from Manchester have advised government and energy sector leaders on the safe development of AI robots used in extreme environments.

The University of Manchester said “hot robot” systems were originally designed to operate in radioactive environments in decommissioned nuclear reactors, but found new application in nuclear fusion, agriculture, the energy sector and even space exploration.

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The university said in a statement: “As part of an ambitious R&D program to maintain UK leadership in robotics technologies, Manchester experts are applying AI technologies to ‘hot robotics’ as they become increasingly independent of human operators. will have to act when entering a range of danger zones to perform very complex tasks.

“A key challenge in the nuclear industry is to improve robotic autonomy so that the technology can be used to dismantle older power plants and other radioactive facilities at sites such as Sellafield and Dounreay more safely, faster and cheaper.

“To support this challenge, the Robotics and AI Collaboration (RAICo) in Cumbria has been established as a joint research program between the University of Manchester, the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA), Sellafield Ltd, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the National Nuclear Laboratory .

“As well as supporting the nuclear decommissioning industry, RAICo will also pilot the development and application of advanced robotics systems in other sectors – a recent report estimates the total UK market size for autonomous robotics systems will be close to £3.5 billion. [$4.2 billion] by 2030.

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Investigating the flashover effects of a shielded drone in the high voltage lab at the University of Manchester. (The University of Manchester/Zenger)

“The academic engagement at RAICo is led by Professor Barry Lennox and his team at the University of Manchester. This group leads the RAIN (Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear) hub and is also part of the Manchester Robotics and AI Center.”

The university added: “The Manchester-led RAIN group has built their expertise after pioneering a range of resilient robotic systems to carry out work in many of the UK’s decommissioned nuclear power plants – doing work that is too dangerous for humans.”

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Professor Barry Lennox said: “The incorporation of AI is because the aim is to develop automated systems that can operate much more efficiently than if they were operated by humans. Within RAICo, we are looking at how we can control the operation of manipulation and inspection systems remotely. improve.

“We are helping Sellafield and other nuclear end-users develop the next generation of remote measurement and treatment equipment to improve their operations.

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“The inclusion of AI is because its goal is to develop automated systems that can operate much more efficiently than if they were operated by humans.

“Within RAICo we look at how we can improve the operation of remote manipulation and inspection systems. We are helping Sellafield and other nuclear end-users develop the next generation of remote measurement and treatment equipment to improve their operations.”

Professor Lennox explains: “The prefix ‘hot’ was introduced because we were interested in deploying the robots in active environments – but we are now looking to extend the hot so that it can refer to more general applications, including the aerospace, agriculture and offshore sectors.

“AI introduces a lot of additional issues to make sure the AI ​​does what we expect it to do and doesn’t cause harm or endanger people’s safety.”

Advanced applications of artificial intelligence are on display at Zhangjiang Future Park’s artificial intelligence pavilion during a state-organized media tour on June 18, 2021 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

Rob Buckingham, head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Center for Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE), said: “The next generation of robotics will be essential to the delivery of fusion energy and, recognizing this, we intend to collaborating widely with the best , such as the robotics research group in Manchester.

“Working with Manchester on the RAIN program has paid off immensely for both sides, so let’s do more.”

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