Source: DOE | Release | June , 2-16

Mitch Pryor, University of Texas – Austin, left to right, Wendall Chun, University of Colorado – Denver, Bill Hamel, University of Tennessee, and Satoshi Tadokoro, Tohuku University, Japan, listen as Tom Nance, Savannah River National Laboratory, explains cleanup mission uses for various robots.

Mitch Pryor, University of Texas – Austin, left to right, Wendall Chun, University of Colorado – Denver, Bill Hamel, University of Tennessee, and Satoshi Tadokoro, Tohuku University, Japan, listen as Tom Nance, Savannah River National Laboratory, explains cleanup mission uses for various robots in December 2015

DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) showcased its unique need for advanced robotics in nuclear and radiological applications at a June 9 event in Washington, D.C. open to the public that marked the five-year anniversary of a multi-agency effort to accelerate the development and application of robots that work beside or cooperatively with people and solve problems in areas of national priority.

The Congressional Robotics Caucus hosted the expo for the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) to promote the progress and promise of collaborative robotics research.

At the expo, EM Senior Technical Advisor Rodrigo Rimando provided insight on cleanup innovations and technologies such as advanced robotics. He joined other NRI federal agency partners with vested interests in robotics to accomplish their missions. The federal government has invested in 230 robotics projects in 33 states totaling $150 million, making major improvements in the country’s technology development.

Just months after EM joined NRI last year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a call for robotic research and technology proposals that included EM’s needs and requirements. It was NRI’s first request for proposals that focused on the nuclear industry — others in the coalition addressed areas such as prosthetics, occupational therapy, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. EM added a new area of scientific and engineering research centered on radiation-hardened and radiation-tolerant robotics.

“We (EM) have a nuclear niche that most roboticists have yet to fully address. And, we are not alone. Nuclearized robotics is needed at commercial nuclear power plants, to support cleanup in other nuclear-capable countries and, of course, to support the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant and other nuclear facilities across the world,” Rimando said.

In July, Rimando led a diverse team of expert roboticists to explore opportunities for collaboration with Japanese universities, technologist, and government laboratories. “Our friends in Japan have deployed robotic devices in the high radiation fields within the units at Fukushima Dai-ichi. In doing so, valuable data and insights were gained on the performance of those robots in those extraordinary conditions. This will inform future designs,” he said.

EM’s mission and cleanup challenges intersect with many domains of robotics, involving underwater, under or below ground, aerial, and access-restricted locations. Nuclearized robotic devices also have the potential to improve the health and safety of EM’s nuclear workforce.

The expo featured the latest in robotic technologies, including those that could be modified to perform in high-hazard environmental cleanup in nuclear facilities. Leading scientists, educators, and thought-leaders will also conduct discussions to promote public understanding of development of co-robots in the modern world.

NRI is a multi-agency effort between the NSF, EM, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, and other organizations.

The caucus focuses on key issues facing the nation’s robotics industry, where members of Congress can learn firsthand about the role of robotics in areas necessary to improve the lives of all Americans.