ALARP-Angel

Training and planning tool for operations in hazardous environments.

Overview

Operators in dangerous environments are exposed to a multitude of hazards. Current work procedures could be improved to make the risks to these people as-low-as-reasonable-practicable by improving planning, training and delivery of operations.

Approach

Workers of the nuclear industry are the focus in this specific project. Radiometric hazard is calculated by our N-Visage® Fusion technology. This is a software utility for characterising nuclear facilities. Multiple radiometric measurements can be combined into a single cohesive model, enabling the radiometric data to be easily understood. Although the focus is on protecting nuclear operators from dose uptake, any quantifiable hazard can be incorporated into the ALARP Angel system.

A wearable device is provided to operators in high hazard environments, which allows hazard uptake to be calculated. In particular, radiometric exposure can be calculated through the utilisation of the N-Visage Fusion technology with the support of an EPD. Operators can be tracked during their tasks and alarms can be sent to an operator’s wearable device if they need to be notified of risk.

During live operations, operators are tracked using our SLATE technology. This uses Scanning Laser
Rangefinder equipment that provides precise (1cm) position, size, shape and velocity information. Live sensor data allows hazard levels to be understood in real time. Operations supervisors will use this date to advise operators on how they should proceed with their work or if circumstances change.

ALARP Angel enables tailored task planning and dynamic task refinement in high-hazard environments delivering cost savings for clients through ensuring ALARP hazard exposure to operators and right-first-time outcomes.

Plan
•Characterisation of hazards and integration into digital asset
•Detail planning of task implementation

Rehearse
•Utilising the digital asset for both desk-based, VR and mockup trials

Do
•Tracking operators
•Live measurement of hazard and comparison against predicted

Solution

The system comprises an embedded computer running N-Visage® real-time 3D activity mapping software alongside autonomous exploration software from ORI; the system interfaces between an autonomous robot and radiation sensor enabling state-of-the-art characterisation capabilities to be integrated in a matter of hours, without any specialist knowledge of radiation measurement.

Optionally, the system can also integrate ORI’s Rooster multi-modality SLAM navigation system. Rooster combines data from multi-beam lidar, stereo camera and IMU to provide the most robust and accurate indoor localisation system available. Alternatively, for robots that already have SLAM capability, the Smart Radiation system can integrate with any third part SLAM that can transmit its map over a ROS interface.

The output of the system is a fully quantified 3D activity map for a single gamma-emitting isotope of choice, complete with uncertainty estimates. The raw data logs can be processed off-line using the N-Visage® Fusion desktop analysis software to map other isotope, classify waste, or predict the results of shielding or decontamination operations.

Combining the worlds widest used 3D radiation mapping code with new support for Compton cameras and the latest autonomy and navigation capabilities from ORI, the Smart Radiation system provides a quick and easy way to integrate state-of-the-art gamma mapping into any robot.

Conclusion

Mobile robotics is becoming the deployment tool of choice for nuclear characterisation applications. However, there is no one-size-fits all robotic platform, and robots are frequently required to carry application specific tools in addition to their radiation measurement apparatus. Today, handling these requirements means that each new robot deployment requires a dedicated robotics development project; this is a costly and time-consuming process and has become a significant obstacle to adopting mobile robots as a standard tool.

matt

Matt Mellor, Managing Director

Matt Mellor started his career as an academic working in research and development at Oxford University where his specialist field was in computer vision and robotics with medical application. But in writing papers, which he says were mainly “read by other academics so they could cite it in their research”, Matt could see there was a vital component missing.

“To turn that research into a product I learned that you have got to make that happen yourself to ensure others recognise the value of it,” said Matt. “That started me on an odyssey to learn about the full process of technological development. That means not just learning about technology, but also about business, people, finance – all the parts you need to make something happen which is going to make a positive change in the world.”

With that in mind, Matt moved to Cumbria and joined REACT Engineering. “REACT put the emphasis on entrepreneurship and I joined the company to apply what I had learned in nuclear medicine to nuclear engineering.” In particular, Matt was able to apply his knowledge in medical imaging to provide smart, technological solutions to the nuclear clean-up industry.

In 2007, Matt was the technical lead in setting up REACT’s own spin-out – aerial surveying company, Hi-Def, which gave him valuable experience of the process involved in setting up a spin-out business. Hi-Def went on to be a sustainable, successful business in its own right and in 2016 became part of the BioConsult SH group. Meanwhile, Matt set up Createc in June 2010, and as CEO has led the company to achieve impressive growth ever since.

Createc started out with just three members of staff – Matt, Alan Shippen and Pete Rodgers. The company’s mission was to create a profitable business out of computer vision and robotics research and development, demonstrating the value such a service adds to industry. Building on technological expertise in the nuclear sector learned from REACT Engineering, Createc developed its N-Visage® technology which went on to be used in the clean-up following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.

Closer to home, Createc used its intellectual property in computer vision to build a business opportunity and set up spin-out company, Sportlight. Earlier this year, it launched a second spin-out from its robotics expertise creating Createc Robotics.

Looking ahead, as society and industry move out of a Covid-19 lockdown, Matt sees robotics playing an ever more important role – but warns those who think it will be an overnight change, to be more patient. “Society has always overestimated what technological development will take place over a two to five-year period. But it has always underestimated what development will take place over 20 years,” said Matt.

“Technological development is an accumulation of small goals which build on top of each other. It creeps forward so that over a 20-year period people then look back and are amazed at how much the world has changed. In 20 years’ time we are going to have a lot more robots, and we will have improved collaboration between human and machine. In some areas that might involve helping to remove people from having to carry out tasks in hazardous environments. In other areas it might be giving people more senses and more capabilities.”

Createc applies its thinking and technologies to any problem to find a solution, and takes a flexible approach when doing so. This means that it can adapt for a range of industries and a range of situations. “We look at the way we can do something, not where we can do it,” said Matt. It’s an approach which has seen its solutions applied in a range of industries and settings, including nuclear and defence, rail and security. Among future growth areas for Createc are heavy engineering, major industrial and general construction.

Createc has received two Queen’s Awards in recent years, one for International Trade and one for Innovation, recognising the company’s success in developing technology. The company is also proud to have won awards for innovation from The Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET), The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Createc’s strategy as it moves beyond its 10-year anniversary is to concentrate on research and development to launch a series of further spin-out companies. Two things Matt is keen to influence in the wider economy to help support the company’s ambitions are funding and leadership. “We need to make sure that the UK is more start-up friendly. And we need more entrepreneurs who want to come and run these businesses,” said Matt. “To me an entrepreneur takes complete ownership and picks their way forward and proceeds confidently in the face of doubt.”

“We have had a sustained growth rate of 40 per cent, and we are focused on continuing to grow at this rate. In the first ten years we have grown from a company with three people turning over £180,000 to 30 people turning over £3.5m. To sustain that level of growth by the end of the next ten years we would have 300 people turning over more than £60m.”

Matt has a clear vision of how the company will keep driving forward, and his motivation and appetite to lead the company to further success is clear. “My motivation comes from bringing something completely new to life which results in the world being a better place,” he said. “Seeing all the pieces come together and creating this thing which creates an economic benefit and also has a positive impact on the world is really satisfying.”