Robotics for Nuclear Environments

Structure of the research programme’s project themes, partners and areas of collaborative research intersection


Theme 1, The University of Manchester

  • Develop both ground and submersible robot platforms that can enter extreme environments through constricted access ports whilst sustaining sufficient energy source and sensor payloads to solve industry-critical problems.

  • Develop the necessary low-level systems to enable ground and submersible robots to navigate reliably and predictably around nuclear environments, autonomously if necessary. Systems to cover aspects such as communications, positioning, fault-tolerant controls.

Theme 2, Bristol Robotics Laboratory

  • Create effective team-working algorithms together with planning systems that are shared, robust and enable heterogeneous robots (or robots and humans) to work as a team to address nuclear-related challenges

  • Recognise the necessity for robotic systems to be risk-aware

  • Develop new and powerful robot-embedded, online behaviour risk assessment systems to ensure safe and effective operation at all times

BRL previous work on telepresence using a robot:


Theme 3, The University of Birmingham

Develop the advanced computer vision and multi-sensor algorithms needed for a wide range of functionality:

  • 3D modelling and recognition of objects and scenes

  • Object and scene understanding at the semantic level

  • Object tracking and fluence understanding in dynamic scenes and in extremely complex, cluttered and uncertain environments

In addition, develop advanced manipulation methods that exploit robotic perception capabilities:

  • For autonomous grasping of arbitrarily-shaped objects of varying material properties (rigid, flexible fragile, tangled)

  • For task-relevant trajectory planning

  • For sensor-informed arm and mobile manipulators operating in environments containing obstacles

  • For analysis of dynamics and new methods of controlling forceful interactions between a robot and its environment (such as cutting, shearing, grinding, pulling and twisting)

Theme 4, National Nuclear Laboratory

  • Scenarios, demonstrators and test deployments

  • Several critical industry-defined scenarios have been identified for tackling in years one – three

  • Based on progress in the first three years, results and future industry needs, further scenarios will be defined for years four and five.

  • For each scenario, mock-up environments will be built and benchmark datasets created for performance evaluation. In addition, performance evaluation metrics will be defined for sensor systems, robots and the humans that control them. These will be accompanied by realistic robotic test deployments.

Research programme and methodology

In keeping with the philosophy of the EPSRC Programme Grant scheme, detailed research plans will be provided for years one to three but years four to five will be left somewhat open ended to give flexibility. By the time the last two years have been reached, various requirements will be better understood to aid planning – for instance, the extent of new build needs, long term storage needs and the need for fusion research.


Some of the difficulties the research programme will need to overcome

  • High consequence environments, with extreme radioactive, thermal and chemical hazards.

  • Limited access, with entry often only available through narrow ports.

  • Thick concrete walls introducing significant communication difficulties that necessitate increased requirements for autonomy, currently unavailable to industry robots.

  • The need to inspect, grasp, manipulate and dismantle a huge variety of objects and materials.

  • Exploration, mapping and modelling of unknown or partially known extreme environments.

  • Requirement for multiple sensing modalities, including radiological, chemical and thermal.

  • A variety of locomotion methods are needed: underwater vehicles, airborne vehicles, and ground-based vehicles which must navigate complex terrains and complex 3D installations.

  • Powerful, precise, multi-axis manipulators needed with complex multimodal sensing capabilities.

  • Need for variable robot supervision, from tele-immersion to autonomous human-robot teamwork.

  • Critically damaging effects of radiation on electronic systems.