Dr Paul Baniqued (RNE PDRA) has recently completed a 4-week research secondment at the Naraha Centre for Remote Control Technology (NARREC) in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. This activity was part of the NEST-ARTERD (Nuclear Education, Skills, and Technology - Advanced Remote Technology and Robotics for Decommissioning) Fellowship and Training program led by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) - Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science (CLADS).
The project involves the development of a software to increase the manipulability and operability of a robot arm by presenting a localized virtual robot model and 3D map via visual simultaneous localisation and mapping (VSLAM) based on captured images in the real world. The deliverable of the project is a fully-integrated digital twin ROS-RVIZ configuration and Unity simulation that can visualise both the robot joint states and the 3D point cloud map generated by the ORB-SLAM2 ROS package via a low-cost USB camera. This aimed to improve the situational awareness of the remote robot operator without using a complicated and computationally demanding setup.
Paul has worked with members of the Spatial Information Creation and Control System Research Group headed by Dr Kuniaki Kawabata and accompanied by JAEA/CLADS researchers Dr Taichi Yamada and Dr Toshihide Hanari.
RAIN researcher Dr Inmo Jang has been seconded at the University of Tokyo (Prof Hajime Asama’s lab) as a JAEA/CLADS (Japan Atomic Energy Agency Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science) NEST (Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology) Fellow. Decommissioning the Primary containment Vessels (PCVs) at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants is an enormous technological challenge. Robots inside the PCVs can be used to remotely handle nuclear-contaminated objects. This secondment focused on providing efficient and practical telepresence to a human operator when controlling a robot remotely, within this unique environment.
Instead of emerging VR (Virtual Reality) technology, human operators reportedly prefer to look at multiple 2D screens as a visual interface, particularly for long-time telemanipulation operations. Reasons for this include VR sickness, challenges sharing information between multiple workers, cost, and technical requirements. If that is the case, it may be natural to think of installing many cameras inside the remote nuclear environments. However, too many viewpoints may confuse the operators, diminishing task performance. Those cameras eventually will become nuclear waste as well, and so should only be used if required.
A method to optimise the required number of cameras, their positions, specifications, and so on, for a given remote environment, is needed to maximise efficiency. Information on the environment could be obtained by an initial remote inspection mission, enabling
The University of Tokyo
operators to plan the remote handling mission. For this aim, Dr Inmo Jang has been contributing to developing a 3D simulator for the PCV environments as well as an optimisation solver, collaborating with Mr Ren Komatsu and Dr Yusuke Tamura in the Asama lab.
Photos from a tour of Asama Lab
During this secondment, there was an opportunity to have a private tutorial by Prof Shunichi Suzuki, who was previously working at TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) for nuclear decommissioning. The tutorial talked about the current status of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plants, the trials that Japanese researchers and industries had done for decommissioning, and their findings.
November 2019 - December 2019
Stella Tournier was hosted by CLADS and seconded to the Remote System and Sensing Technology Division research group (part of the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency) from November 2019 to December 2019, under the supervision of Wakaida –san and Ohba –san. The group is currently developing LIBS and other laser-based instrumentation to inspect the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, and characterising and differentiating structural debris from fuel debris if of particular interest. The purpose of Stella’s secondment was to characterise a microchip laser and integrate it into a LIBS probe head, and assess its analytical performance in relation to a more convention fibre-optic LIBS device.
Kyoto Symposium where Stella was awarded 2nd place in the poster competition
The work of the Remote System and Sensing Technology Division was particularly relevant to Stella’s PhD project, and already familiar with the publications of Wakaida –san’s group, Stella was eager to work with experts in LIBS. In addition to becoming more familiar with LIBS, Stella gained an understanding of alternative configurations, and the limitations of the technique, which provides avenues for further research and innovation.
Reflecting on her experience in Japan, Stella expressed her gratitude and felt that it was an ‘excellent opportunity to gain insight into scientific research in Japan. Engagement from senior researchers and colleagues was high, there was a strong community feeling amongst the research team and the programme was very well organised.’
October 2019-February 2020
From October 2019 until February 2020 Keir Groves was seconded to CSIROs Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group, in Brisbane, Australia. CSIRO is Australia’s federal research agency and has extensive capabilities in field robotics and autonomous systems. Presently, CSIRO are mid-way through the DARPA sub-terranean challenge with their fleet of autonomous mobile robots (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUhVFOnC0tY&feature=youtu.be&t=9). Keir’s work leveraged the localisation and navigation systems that have been developed at CSIRO to develop the first mobile robot that can autonomously map radiation and at the same time avoid areas that it finds to have high radiation, minimising the dose to the robot. This successful work has sparked future collaboration and technology transfer work between CSIRO and UoM.
October 2019-December 2019
Currently being built scale mockup of inside the reactor
This secondment was focused on aiding efforts to characterise and understand the current state of the Fukushimi Daichi Nuclear Powerstation, which was severely damaged during the 2011 tsunami. Using sensors already available on robots which are deployed inside the powerstations, the aim of the work was to investigate the possibility of using Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) algorithms and images from a camera, to give a robot operator a greater understanding of the environment whilst running a mission. This involved using images captured from a camera to be processed by a visual SLAM algorithm to generate a point cloud before using this point cloud and the original images to generate 3D meshes with the images overlaid. This allowed an operators to then view the environment inside a virtual reality simulator, giving the ability to manipulate and walk through the representation of the environment to gain a greater understanding.
Generating meshes from images is not a new idea, the main focus was to create rough representations in a sub-minute time frame, compared to traditional methods which whilst producing more accurate representations of an environment are often much slower to generate. This improvement allowed for the software to be run during deployment, with operators only having to make brief stops whilst mesh generation occurred. It was also found that although rough the meshes could be produced from a much smaller number of images than the photogrametry or structure from motion tools being used for comparison.
RAIN researcher Dr Thomas Wright has recently undertaken a secondment at the Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Sciences (CLADS) in Japan. This work forms part of an ongoing collaborations with the Japanese Atomic Energy Authority (JAEA) and University of Tokyo, formed by the University of Manchester and continued through the RAIN Hub.
During his time in Japan, along side time work, several trips and tours were made to facilities such as the TEPCO Decommissioning Archive and the Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology Development to gain an understanding of the wider problem and current efforts being made in Japanese nuclear decommisioning.
Presentation of results
Resulting mesh being viewed in virtual reality
During this trip, time was taken to present the work currently being done by members of the RAIN Hub, discuss common challenges facing both UK and Japanese nuclear decommissioning and promote collaboration between the two organisation. For anyone who may be interested in being involved with such collaberations, the CLADS research fellowships for 2020 are currently open for application, with work focusing on a range of topics facing the nuclear decommissioning community.
Mock data collection
Visit to TEPCO
Illustration 1: Robot deployed into Fukushima
During my PhD, I spent two weeks as a visiting student at the Department of Advanced Robotics, Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), led by Dr Claudio Semini. The aim of the visit was to support the hardware and software restoration of the Mini-HyQ, a state-of-art hydraulic quadruped with bio-inspired joint mechanism. I provided supported my colleague, Dr Farshad Arvin, on the hardware modifications and learned from one of IIT's researcher, Dr Marco Frigerio, the software architecture and control developed and used by IIT for all their quadrupeds.
June 2015-August 2015
I was fortunate enough to take part in a secondment with Hitachi-GE, in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan for 3 months. Hitachi-GE are in charge of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi, the Unit 1 of the Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Hitachi-GE develop robotic platforms and processes to remove human workers from harm, improve understanding of the NPP internals and enable efficient decommissioning. They collaborate with TEPCO & the JAEA amongst others in a huge restoration project that will expand across many years.
During the secondment, I was moved between various departments for 1-month stints and undertook a range of tasks. For example, helping with the design for a camera housing to be lowered through industrial grating and mounted on Hitachi’s shape-changing robotic platform.
I also completed some initial designs for an alternative robotic platform with severely restricted access points to operate in a cluttered environment and a robotic manipulator to be deployed through the ceiling of a room and manipulate debris.
I hope that working with Hitachi-GE has meant that I have helped impact the Fukushima decommissioning project even a minute amount and I have only ever recommended that colleagues apply for secondments as I learnt a lot from it.
The whole experience was amazing for so many reasons. Taking part in morning exercises conducted by the Japanese population nationally, different work practices and ethics, the incredible hospitality, work-time disc-golf competitions and the amazing culture. I was able to see a lot of Japan through weekend trips and holiday at the end of the secondment, leaving me with an experience I will never forget!
Dept. of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
The University of Manchester
Engineering Building A