IAEA's Third Robotics Challenge Under Way

"Robots have a multitude of game-changing applications across industry, and there are major safety, productivity and efficiency gains to be made from adopting them," said Alberto Elfes, chief research scientist and group leader for robotics at CSIRO's Data61.

During the International Atomic Energy Agency's General Conference taking place this week in Vienna, Austria, representatives from more than 25 countries discussed innovative ideas Sept. 19 on how the field of robotics can contribute to nuclear safeguards and verification. The meeting came two months before the end of IAEA's third Robotics Challenge, which is a crowdsourcing initiative aimed at discovering new technologies that could be used to enhance IAEA's work in that area.

IAEA's news release about the meeting noted that nuclear safeguards inspectors often need to take repetitive measurements in places that are difficult to access and may have elevated radiation levels. Robotics could assist nuclear safeguards inspectors in being more effective and efficient. "Collecting data in the field is an area of safeguards work that is manual and resource intensive, both for the IAEA and for the operator," said Dimitri Finker, Technology Foresight Specialist in the Department of Safeguards. "The use of robotics could free up inspector time to focus on analyzing data."

The third Robotics Challenge will conclude this fall with a final field test. The winning team's technology will then be considered for use in safeguards verification activities.

The first crowdsourcing challenge, held in 2016, focused on identifying enhanced image processing techniques for an existing safeguards instrument, the Improved Cherenkov Viewing Device, which is used to verify spent fuel after its removal from the reactor core and transfer to underwater storage. The ICVD filters out all light except for some of the ultraviolet light (referred to as the Cherenkov glow) emitted by spent fuel when underwater, allowing safeguards inspectors to confirm that the declared number of spent fuel assemblies is present.

In November 2017, a dozen teams from Canada, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Israel, South Korea, Switzerland, the UK, and the United States demonstrated the ideas they submitted to the second Robotics Challenge -- the event was co-hosted by IAEA and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) Data61, an Australian data innovation network. The teams competed in two categories: on the ground, aimed at performing gamma measurements, and floating on water, aimed at performing spent fuel verification underwater. According to the release, three proposals for a floating platform were identified for potential use, with the robots floating on water showing clear potential in navigating the water surface while taking clear photos to verify that the spent fuel is present and accounted for.

"Robots have a multitude of game-changing applications across industry, and there are major safety, productivity and efficiency gains to be made from adopting them," said Alberto Elfes, chief research scientist and group leader for robotics at CSIRO's Data61.

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