Remote Handling

Gloveboxes are commonly used in the nuclear industry. However, handling hazardous material within a glovebox can be inefficient and carries many risks.

The Remote Handling Working Group is developing technology to take hands out of gloveboxes, making nuclear decommissioning safer, faster and cheaper. The solution to the glovebox challenge requires integration of robotics and AI. Manipulators, graspers or other end effectors, and specialised platforms that can fit through a glove port can be controlled remotely via VR, or AR. AI can assist with mission planning and object detection. Humans will need to work closely with these systems. Understanding how operators work and could best engage with the technology is key to ensuring they are successful. Workshops and regular feedback from end users and industrial partners is fundamental to developing a remote handling solution that could be used in, or out of, nuclear gloveboxes.

Current priorities for the RHWG are improving user experience, visibility and reusability. The glovebox demonstrator has been hugely improved due to the working group interactions. We will continue to integrate feedback, developing the system towards demonstrations in a nuclear environment.

The RHWG demonstrator

In the RHWG glovebox mock-up there is a bimanual teleoperation system consisting of 2 Kinova Gen3, or 2 KUKA LBRs, with Robotiq grippers. Robotic arms are controlled by HTC VIVEs or gaming controllers. Sensors on the glovebox mock-up include RGB-D and stereo cameras. Information is transferred to a digital twin and virtual reality system. An Operations Management System (OMS) is also incorporated into the digital environment, which can contribute to process management. Other platforms can be used with this system. For example, we used a port to insert a snake arm that can bend into difficult to reach corners.

The Remote Handling Working Group (RHWG) blends research in themes 3 and 5

RAIN expertise in Human Robot Interaction and Architecture is combined to develop remote handling platforms and infrastructure.

Working Group Lead – Rob Skilton

Theme 3: Human Robot Interaction – Sandor Veres

Theme 5: Architectures – Rob Skilton

The RIWG builds upon the research going on across the institutions within the hub and finds industrial challenges that could be solved by applying this knowledge. In particular, the RIWG is developing tools that can take hands out of gloveboxes.

Research Challenges Theme 3:

  • 1

    Telerobots need to be raised to higher levels of autonomy so as to enhance productivity and quality of operations
  • 2

    Operators need to communicate tasks quickly and easily to robot systems, potentially using high-level gestures utilising augmented reality
  • 3

    Knowledge transfer interfaces need to be developed, where operators can define new material types, object geometries, appearance, physical properties and systems
  • 4

    A high-level conceptual system needs to be developed for HRI to communicate jobs and tasks at higher levels of abstraction levels, such as “clean up this pile of materials”, “find and handle the most radioactive materials and store them in Area B”
  • 5

    The robots need to be able to generate human readable reports in the natural language of their recent activities and the tasks completed; 6. In line with robotic capabilities, training needs to be developed for robot operators so that they understand the operational capabilities as well as the limitations of robots
  • 6

    In line with robotic capabilities, training needs to be developed for robot operators so that they understand the operational capabilities as well as the limitations of robots

Research Challenges Theme 5:

  • 1

    To determine what the function / efficacy / impact of robotic systems, including digital tools such as AR/VR, condition monitoring, operational management and hardware tools will be on the movement of nuclear materials
  • 2

    To determine the affect that RAI will have on nuclear architecture and processes. For instance, will RAI enable radically different approaches to plant operation and decommissioning to be technically feasible? Can a “remote maintenance manual” for different applications be developed?
  • 3

    To determine how RAI will impact the procedures that regulate the conduct of nuclear operations and how regulations and standards need to be re-interpreted and developed to enable efficient use of new tools.