Robotics and AI in Extreme Environments: What’s the Future?

This is a guest post by Innovate UK. Innovate UK are the British government’s innovation agency. They are focused on finding British businesses and entrepreneurs who can use new science and technology to drive economic growth.

They have recently created The Innovation Podcast. The first episode is about Robotics, you can listen on iTunes Stitcher or here.

There’s an increasing amount of work that needs to be done in extreme environments. From deep sea diving to nuclear decommissioning, many industries require dangerous, difficult and sometimes impossible jobs. Robots provide the solution!

While there are many challenges we still need to overcome, where there’s a need – there’s a place for robots. In this podcast, we take a closer look at the future of robotics and AI in extreme environments.

The Current Need for Robotics

When some people think of robots, they conjure up an image of a humanoid machine. But, in fact, this isn’t the case. Robots come in many forms. While robots can be useful for mundane tasks, such as autonomous inspections for radiation, to save people performing them – this isn’t their only benefit. Robots are also useful for undertaking the dangerous tasks that humans cannot do.

So, which industries would benefit most from the instalment of robots? What are the challenges preventing these industries from using more robots?

Deep Sea Operations

Many people are unaware of the dangers of diving to extreme depths. The pressure changes present more of a challenge than those of travelling to space! Divers can suffer long-term health conditions as a result of these pressure changes. However, deep sea diving is necessary for industries such as offshore energy.

The solution? Robots! Although robots have been used in deep sea diving since the 1970s, the technology needs to make many more advancements to meet today’s demands.

Robots can bridge the gap between the demand for the work and the limitations of the human body. However, the technology still faces some difficulties, such as connectivity issues and low battery power.

Radioactive Environments

Decommissioning Britain’s historic nuclear sites requires work that is too dangerous for people to perform and costs billions each year. This is where robots come in.

Many sites have areas that are highly radioactive. Humans can only enter these areas wearing heavy protection and for a short period of time, which is both dangerous and inefficient. Using robots avoids these problems. Robots can be designed to be agile in the variety of environments present on nuclear sites, from underwater storage ponds to cramped, dark, dusty old rooms. They can also be designed with radiation resistant components and decontamination in mind.

The solution may seem simple, however technology still needs to make a number of advancements in order for robots to be regularly used in radioactive environments. We are still trying to understand how well the technology can continue to work and complete their tasks in these harsh environments. From ongoing research within the nuclear and space industries we know that this is possible. The challenge now is to make this possible in a cost-effective way.

Mapping the Sea Bed

The UK is home to many marine areas that need conserving, such as coral reefs and canyons. An underwater map of the coast would allow us to fully understand what’s in our seas.

As well as this, mapping the sea bed is crucial to many industries. One reason for this is because of the amount of unexploded ammunition that has been dumped on the sea floor, creating a serious safety risk. This needs to be cleared before important cables, such as those that connect the internet, can be laid, or offshore wind turbines can be built.

Reaching the sea floor requires diving to extreme depths and temperatures. Therefore, there’s a need for robots. But, marine robots are still relatively ‘dumb’, needing to be controlled by intelligent pilots. Ideally, artificial intelligence will allow robots to solve issues for themselves, making them much more efficient. However, this needs to be achieved on a fraction of the budget given to the space industry.

Robots in the Workplace

Many people assume that robots will take our jobs. While this is true, it will be mostly the jobs that people cannot do safely or efficiently. So, instead of replacing us, our workplaces will adapt to include robots.

Also, the advancement of robotics will open up some exciting business opportunities. Artificial intelligence is an ever-growing, increasingly popular industry that SMEs can take advantage of.

With so many industries calling out for the instalment of robotics, there’s plenty of business opportunities to be found.

The Future of Robots

In the near-future, artificial intelligence will change robots for the better. Robots will be able to make decisions for themselves and problem solve. As well as unlocking new business opportunities, the developments in robotic technology will allow us to explore previously undiscovered areas. Technology already plays a hugely beneficial role in our everyday lives, and this is only set to increase – thanks to robotics.

Interested in finding out more? Download and listen to Innovate UK’s podcast about robots in extreme environments. Alternatively, subscribe to their YouTube channel to stay up to date with the latest scientific advancements and innovations.