Manchester experts design AI-powered machines tough enough to work safely in hostile hotspots

Academic engagement in RAICo is led by Professor Barry Lennox and his team from the University of Manchester. This group leads the RAIN (Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear) and are also part of the pole Manchester Robotics and AI Center.

“The inclusion of AI is because the goal is to develop automated systems that can operate much more efficiently than if operated by people,” explained Barry Lennox.

“At RAICo, we seek to improve the operation of remote handling and inspection systems. We help Sellafield and other nuclear end users develop the next generation of remote surveying and handling equipment so they can improve their operations.

Professor Lennox explained that Manchester is a world leader in the design and development of autonomous systems through the application of artificial intelligence technologies such as machine learning to dramatically improve robotic systems.

The Manchester-led RAIN group has developed its expertise after pioneering a series of resilient robotic systems to carry out work at many of the UK’s decommissioned nuclear power stations – performing work too dangerous for humans .

Professor Lennox explained: “The ‘hot’ prefix was introduced because we were interested in deploying robots in active environments – but we are now looking to extend hot so that it can refer to more general applications including space, agricultural and offshore. Many of the challenges are similar, although the bots may end up looking a bit different.

Improving the AI ​​capability of these machines is the next big challenge for his team, Professor Lennox added. “AI introduces many additional issues related to ensuring that AI will do what we expect it to and will not cause harm or endanger human safety.”

Beyond nuclear dismantling, the Manchester-led RAIN team is also establishing joint work programs with the UK Atomic Energy Authority to support them in the development of robotic systems for nuclear fusion reactors.

Rob Buckingham, Director of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and Head of their RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) centre, said: “The next generation of robotics will be essential for the delivery of fusion energy and, recognizing that, we intend to collaborate extensively with the best, such as the Manchester Robotics Research Group.

“Working with Manchester on the RAIN program has reaped huge benefits for both parties, so let’s do more.”

Finally, the Manchester researchers advise UK policy makers and energy sector leaders on the safe development of robotic and autonomous systems for working in harsh environments.

Professor Michael Fisher, Dr. Louise Denis and Dr Matt Luckcuck recently presented recommendations in their ‘white papercalling for greater transparency and easier verification of autonomous decision-making processes, especially for systems used in situations where there is a risk to human well-being.

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James G. Williams