Aston aids NASA rover mapping project

TORONE robotics
Advanced robotics and sensing technologies will be used

2 March 2017

  • Aston scientist among team that will use advanced robotics and sensing technologies

  • £1.6m research grant awarded to develop new robotic system to collect data

  • Technology will enable nuclear sites to be mapped more safely and accurately

University of Manchester scientists are leading a team which is to comprehensively map some of the world’s most radioactive sites using sensing technology mounted on an advanced robotic vehicle.

The world is home to a large number of sites which are contaminated with radioactive waste and require clean-up and analysis. Currently, the options to map and assess these sites are extremely expensive and time consuming – involving either removing samples for lab analysis or sending in remote sensors which only give part of the necessary picture.

The team, which includes Dr Michael Aspinall of Aston University, has been awarded a £1.6 million grant by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to form a group which will develop a new robotic system with the ability to use a wider range of sensors than ever before to map nuclear sites.

Featuring optical spectroscopic techniques, advanced radiation detection methods and modern sensor technologies on remotely-operated vehicle platforms, each sensing technology will provide a piece of the ‘total characterisation’ jigsaw, together with 3D mapping of the material within the environment.

It will feature advanced robotics and control technologies, such as those used in NASA’s Curiosity Rover, to form the flexible platform necessary for trials in nuclear environments ranging from Sellafield in the UK, to Fukushima in Japan.

Principal Investigator, Dr Phil Martin from The University of Manchester's School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, said: "This is an exciting project bringing together a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and engineers to develop a really innovative system for remote characterisation of a range of nuclear environments which should lead to big improvements in the decommissioning process."

The Consortium, known as TORONE (TOtal characterisation by Remote Observation in Nuclear Environments), is also made up of scientists from Lancaster and Aston Universities, the National Nuclear Laboratory and the UK Atomic Energy Authority. The project is for three years’ duration and started on 1 March 2017.

The TORONE group will be working with Sellafield, and Sellafield Ltd Robotics and Autonomous Systems Lead, Dr Paul Mort, said: “Characterisation of materials is of critical importance on the Sellafield site. Improved understanding of what materials are and where they are in our facilities offers considerable benefits when we are planning and carrying out decommissioning activities.

“A technology that is cheap and able to be remotely deployed simply and quickly to inspect materials in-situ, will make it safer for humans and give an opportunity to get better data to make more informed decisions.  This technology would have far reaching applications on site and has the potential to improve productivity, thereby reducing decommissioning timescales and costs.”

Professor Francis Livens, Director of The University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, said: “As we decommission nuclear facilities around the world, it has become very clear that we have to be smarter, because that allows us to be quicker, cheaper and safer. New ideas, such as these, are vital if we are to do this.”

Dr Aspinall, who is a lecturer in biomedical engineering in the School of Life and Health Sciences, added: “This is an exciting opportunity to work as part of a world-class team to combine state-of-the-art multi sensor instrumentation with robotics.” 

The project will use his expertise in implementing multi-sensor instrumentation for mixed radiation field spectroscopy.


Notes to the editor

TORONE is led by UoM Principal Investigator Dr Philip Martin (School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Sciences). Co-Investigators at UoM comprise Prof. Barry Lennox (School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) and Prof Nick Smith (Royal Society Industry Fellow, Schools of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, seconded from NNL); Lancaster University Co-Investigator Prof. Malcolm Joyce (School of Engineering) and Aston University Co-Investigator Dr Michael Aspinall (School of Life and Health Sciences).

Funding of £1.6 million is from the EPSRC through its Remote Sensing in Extreme Environments call.

Media enquiries about the TORONE project to:  Jamie Brown, news and media relations manager, The University of Manchester on  0161 8383 or           07887 561318 or [email protected]

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston University has been always been a force for change. For 50 years the University has been transforming lives through pioneering research, innovative teaching and graduate employability success. Aston is renowned for its opportunity enabler through broad access and inspiring academics, providing education that is applied and has real impact on all areas of society, business and industry.

For more information, call Susi Turner, press office, on 0121 204 4978 or email [email protected] 

Be first to get the latest news, research and expert comment from Aston by following us on Twitter: @AstonPress