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Today’s autonomous robots serve as anything from warfighters to fruit pickers. Now, there’s a new autonomous robot in town and its aim is a very useful one: to clean underwater nuclear waste.

Called the Autonomous Aquatic Inspection and Intervention (A2I2), the robot is the result of a wide-ranging UK collaboration led by Rovco that includes Forth Engineering, D-RisQ, the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), Thales UK, and Manchester University. And this week, A212 showcased its capabilities in hazardous environments in Forth’s 1.2 million liter tank facility in Maryport.

“The whole challenge of this particular project was removing people from hazardous and dangerous environments,” Gary Cross, a senior robotics engineer at Rovco, told The Engineer. “One of the key things is increasing the distance between the operators and the environment they’re working in. And the easiest way to do that is to make the vehicle remote, remotely controlled, and remotely operated.”

A212 uses a system known as SubSlam in order to live-stream 3D images of matter within a spent fuel pond. Onshore pilots can then make quick decisions on what to do with the substances. The robot becomes especially handy in situations where nuclear materials are in danger of colliding with one another. 

The project was not without its fair share of challenges; particularly the latency. As the distance between the operator and the tools they’re using increases, so does the latency in communication, making it very difficult to operate. “So, technology such as the advanced perception system and mapping capabilities enables us to use the autonomy to provide the appropriate systems to the pilots who can still be in control in a safe and meaningful way within the pond,” added Cross.

A212 also has collision avoidance systems built in to tackle whatever comes its way. If all goes well with continued testing, the firm may one day be able to remove all operators from harsh and unforgiving nuclear environments. 

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