A large semi-autonomous drone capable of monitoring radiation levels after a release of nuclear material in the environment has been developed by Bristol University researchers.
The unmanned aerial system (UAV), called the ARM, can also measure surface temperature and provide photographs of the affected area.
The team believes the system could be very valuable in situations such as the Fukushima Daichi nuclear disaster.
“By using light-weight and low-cost unmanned aerial vehicles systems, we can immediately and remotely determine the spread and intensity of radiation following any such event,” said Dr Tom Scott, the project lead and director of the Interface Analysis Centre in the University’s School of Physics.
“The systems have sufficient in-built intelligence to deploy them following an incident and are effectively disposable if they become contaminated.”
Teams operating in high-risk areas would thus be able to obtain accurate information about the radiation levels they would be exposed to if they entered the area.
The project was jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and nuclear decommissioning company Sellafield. At the same time, the Bristol University team has been developing a similar drone, capable of flying inside buildings.
The ARM drone was successfully tested in various weather conditions including snow, rain and high winds. The sensitivity of its sensors and accuracy of on-board computers was verified during field trials at radioactively contaminated sites in south-west Romania and naturally occurring anomaly site in Cornwall.
The University of Bristol is now working closely with the National Nuclear Laboratory to offer this technology to Japan as a helpful tool for environmental surveying during the on-going Fukishima clean-up operations and in the surround prefecture. The team is also developing a UAV mapping system and exploration algorithms for projects relating to the detection of buried explosives and depleted uranium ordnance.