Robot dogs could soon be sniffing out hazards on Sellafield nuclear site

A robot dog has been going through its paces at one of the largest nuclear sites in the country.

The agile robot dog – dubbed Spot – was seen at Sellafield on the west Cumbria coast over three days as part of the recent trial.

Spot, who was developed by US manufacturer Boston Dynamic, was at Calder Hall nuclear power station, which is currently being decommissioned.

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Decommissioning of Calder Hall brings with it a chance to test Spot’s ability to travel over challenging terrain while also putting to test its scanning and radiation detection technology.

It the three-day trial is deemed a success, it could see Spot and others deployed at locations across the Sellafield site to carry out routine tasks like inspections, mapping, data capture and characterisation.

The four-legged robot is able to perform autonomous missions and can be controlled remotely via an operator, which significantly improves safety by allowing the robot to enter hazardous, contaminated areas in lieu of a person.

Guy Burroughes from the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments centre (RACE) said: “We’ve been using Spot for over a year in our work to develop robotics for challenging environments like nuclear facilities.

“We were delighted to bring this experience to support the trials at Sellafield and hope it can lead to safer, more efficient decommissioning.”

going through its paces at Sellafield
The robot dog going through its paces at Sellafield
(Image: Sellafield Ltd / Nuclear Decommissioning Authority)

The demonstration at Sellafield was held in conjunction with Boston Dynamics, Cumbria-based engineering consultant Createc, and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

Rav Chunilal, head of robotics and artificial intelligence for Sellafield Ltd, said: “Our mission is to create a clean and safe environment for future generations. Robots like Spot are an integral part of our future.

“They offer us a way of getting jobs done in hazardous environments while keeping people out of harm’s way. Robots are excellent at performing repetitive and time-consuming tasks. This allows us to free up our people to undertake more fulfilling work contributing to our purpose: creating a clean and safe environment for future generations.

“Spot’s active demonstration has given us great insight into its capabilities. We’ll now study the findings before we take a decision on whether to deploy this technology at Sellafield.”

Guy Burroughes, senior control systems engineer at UKAEA, said: “We’ve been using Spot for over a year in our work to develop robotics for challenging environments like nuclear facilities. We were delighted to bring this experience to support the trials at Sellafield and hope it can lead to safer, more efficient decommissioning.”

Will Newsom, head of nuclear at Createc, added: “Spot is the ideal tool to deploy equipment into industrial environments which have been designed for bipedal human exploration only.

“It will be an important part of the toolset to add to Sellafield Ltd’s remote-operations capability.

“We are working with Boston Dynamics as their preferred partner for nuclear applications to deliver this cutting-edge technology and integrate new capabilities, making the solution business-as-usual for our customers.”

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