• Robotic Exploration of an Unknown Nuclear Environment Using Radiation Informed Autonomous Navigation

      Groves, Keir; orcid: 0000-0002-0763-7069; email: keir.groves@manchester.ac.uk; Hernandez, Emili; orcid: 0000-0002-6143-6161; email: emili.hernandez@emesent.io; West, Andrew; orcid: 0000-0003-4553-8640; email: andrew.west@manchester.ac.uk; Wright, Thomas; email: thomas.wright@manchester.ac.uk; Lennox, Barry; orcid: 0000-0003-0905-8324; email: barry.lennox@manchester.ac.uk (MDPI, 2021-05-24)
      This paper describes a novel autonomous ground vehicle that is designed for exploring unknown environments which contain sources of ionising radiation, such as might be found in a nuclear disaster site or a legacy nuclear facility. While exploring the environment, it is important that the robot avoids radiation hot spots to minimise breakdowns. Broken down robots present a real problem: they not only cause the mission to fail but they can block access routes for future missions. Until now, such robots have had no autonomous gamma radiation avoidance capabilities. New software algorithms are presented that allow radiation measurements to be converted into a format in which they can be integrated into the robot’s navigation system so that it can actively avoid receiving a high radiation dose during a mission. An unmanned ground vehicle was fitted with a gamma radiation detector and an autonomous navigation package that included the new radiation avoidance software. The full system was evaluated experimentally in a complex semi-structured environment that contained two radiation sources. In the experiment, the robot successfully identified both sources and avoided areas that were found to have high levels of radiation while navigating between user defined waypoints. This advancement in the state-of-the-art has the potential to deliver real benefit to the nuclear industry, in terms of both increased chance of mission success and reduction of the reliance on human operatives to perform tasks in dangerous radiation environments.