Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


RoMaNS Report Summary

Project ID: 645582
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RoMaNS (Robotic Manipulation for Nuclear Sort and Segregation)

Reporting period: 2015-05-01 to 2016-10-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

RoMaNS (Robotic Manipulation for Nuclear Sort and Segregation) is developing advanced robotics technologies needed for handling hazardous nuclear waste.

Cleaning up legacy nuclear waste, in the UK alone, represents the largest environmental remediation project in Europe. Decommissioning UK nuclear sites will take > 100 years, with costs which could exceed €200billion. Most EU countries share similar challenges, with worldwide decommissioning costs of order €1trillion. At least 20% of this work must be done by robots.

In particular, robotic arms and hands must be used to perform complex grasping and manipulation tasks. At one UK site 69,600 cubic metres of old nuclear waste must be examined and repackaged into 179,000 new storage containers. Robots must cut open old containers, sort through the contents, cut and resize waste where needed, then place waste in new storage containers for safe disposal. Waste must be “sorted and segregated”, so that very expensive high-level waste containers are not unnecessarily filled with less hazardous low-level waste.

Currently these tasks are performed by teams of human operators, painstakingly controlling the robot very slowly using joysticks. In contrast, RoMaNS seeks to demonstrate how advanced robotics methods can be used to solve these problems more quickly and efficiently.

Firstly, we are developing new robot arms and hands, capable of highly dexterous and sophisticated behaviours, while still being resilient in high radiation fields.

Secondly, we are developing “tele-presence” systems which enable human operators to control the remote “slave” robot while feeling the forces experienced by the robot when it contacts objects.

Additionally, we are developing “autonomous” robot control methods. Now the operator can simply mouse-click on an object displayed on the video monitor. The robot’s vision system will detect the object and automatically guide the robot to grasp it.

Finally, we are exploring “shared control”, where both human and AI collaborate to control the robot, with the human controlling part of the motion, while the AI takes care of other aspects.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

First, a novel robot slave arm and hand have been built, which are lightweight and adaptive, while also being nuclearisable. We have also developed a new haptic exoskeleton glove to control the slave hand, while providing haptic telepresence.

Secondly, we developed robot vision algorithms for automatically detecting, recognising and tracking objects in camera images. Vision is then used to automatically guide robots towards manipulated objects.

Thirdly, we developed algorithms for automatic planning and control of robot motions, to achieve autonomous grasping and manipulation of objects using machine learning.

We have also developed new approaches to shared control - human and AI collaborate to control the robot.

Additionally, we have carried out a variety of experiments with human test-subjects, using methods from the fields of psychology and human factors to measure how well humans can use robots to remotely manipulate objects.

Finally, we have built an industrial robotic test-bed at industry partner NNL, which we will use to demonstrate RoMaNS technologies to nuclear end-users.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Societal impact:
Safe decommissioning of legacy nuclear sites is one of the major challenges faced by any society which has a history of engaging in nuclear activities. Improving our ability to automate such tasks, can also remove humans from performing hazardous work.

As well as using robots to help the nuclear industry, RoMaNS is also showing how nuclear applications can help the robotics community. EU robotics research expertise will not lead to economic benefits unless we identify applications for advanced robotics which are: 1) needed in the near term; 2) economically large; 3) of major societal importance. Few near-term applications can compete with the enormous area of nuclear decommissioning.

Academic impact:
The RoMaNS project has made significant advances beyond the state-of-the-art, in diverse fields of study, ranging from mechanical engineering, to novel computer algorithms, to adapting psychology and human-factors methodologies to investigate human-robot interaction.

During the first 18 months of the project, 27 scientific papers have been written by the consortium (22 published or in press, and 5 more in review). RoMaNS researchers have given over 25 invited talks about our work. We have also organised and/or hosted 5 workshops on robotic manipulation, and applications for robotics to hazardous environments at major international conferences such as ERF, ICRA and IROS.

Industrial and commercial impact:
1) RoMaNS project partner CEA has developed a novel robot arm, and created a new spin-out company, Sybot, which will market the robot commercially.
2) During the first 18 months of the RoMaNS project, CEA has also developed a new haptic exoskeleton hand/glove, which is being transferred to CEA spinout company Haption for commercial exploitation.
3) Partner UoB is proceeding with patenting of their autonomous robot grasping algorithm, used in RoMaNS for automating grasping of nuclear waste materials.
4) The autonomous grasping work of UoB is being commercialised through UoB’s knowledge transfer partnership with KUKA-UK. These algorithms are being embedded into a KUKA industrial software toolkit for vision-guided industrial robot control.
5) In collaboration with KUKA-UK, UoB are carrying out a technology transfer project with automotive manufacturer Jaguar-Landrover (JLR). Vision-guided autonomous robotic grasping methods, developed in RoMaNS for handling nuclear waste, are being adapted for vision-guided bin-picking of automotive parts on the JLR production line.
6) Partners UoB and NNL have extended the vision-guided robot arm control methods, to control a robot arm to deploy a powerful laser cutter, for cutting and dismantling highly contaminated legacy nuclear waste objects.

Educational outreach and public communication of science:
RoMaNS has engaged with the public in a variety of ways, ranging from “Pint of Science” lectures (where a scientist gives a lecture to the public in a pub setting), to being interviewed on the BBC Radio4 “Today” program.

We have also engaged in a large amount of educational outreach work. PI Stolkin ran one week robotics summer schools in 2015 and 2016 at the historic Royal Institution of Great Britain, where school children designed and built their own robots, motivated by the issues of cleaning up nuclear waste. RoMaNS researchers also worked with Royal Institution to run numerous robotics workshops with schools across the UK. We also collaborated with educational researchers in the US to create innovative curricula in which school children build and deploy their own environmental monitoring sensors.

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