Robot dog at Dounreay

A year-long series of projects is exploring how remote-operated vehicles can help with the decommissioning of nuclear power stations, keeping human operators safe. 

Spot is a very good dog, able to climb stairs, dodge obstacles and venture over rough ground, all exactly as instructed. Spot is also a robot. 

Developed by Boston Dynamics, the agile, smart robot can gather data, carry and power up to 14kg of equipment, and can be remote-controlled using an intuitive tablet application. That’s especially useful in places where it’s dangerous for humans to go – such as a former nuclear power station. 

Funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Dounreay is the site licence company responsible for the clean-up and demolition of the UK’s former centre of fast reactor research and development, situated on the north coast of Scotland. 

Dounreay is now working with Createc, the systems integrator for Spot, on a series of seven use cases for the remote-operated vehicle (ROV), to be carried out over the coming year. A dedicated Createc employee will be based on site, initially to lead the projects while also training staff in how to use the robot. 

Heather Fairweather, project manager for the innovation team, says: ‘Spot is not just a gimmick; it’s a practical tool that we can use to survey and monitor in areas where people should not or cannot go. 

‘We are investigating all the ways that we can use the ROV so that we can get the most out of it. 

‘Operators can minimise their dose rates but still get the job done. It’s not to replace operators, but to help them.’ 

The next trial will use 3D laser scanning or LIDAR to create an external survey of site facilities. 

Spot has already been successfully deployed at other sites across the NDA estate, such as Sellafield, as part of an effort to share learning, move people further away from harm and decommission more efficiently. 

The robot previously visited Dounreay last May as part of a Celebration of Innovation Day, demonstrating how robots may play a role in decommissioning the site. A video from April shows Spot learning to use the stairs at the facility. 

In related news, robots deliver groceries in Wakefield.

Photo of Spot by Harry Murphy/Web Summit via Sportsfile


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