Published: 11 July 2017

The RACE to zero human intervention

At this year’s TAROS conference, Dr Rob Buckingham, Director of the UKAEA (UK Atomic Energy Authority), will open a window on RACE.

Rob Buckingham

Dr Buckingham will deliver one of the keynote speeches at the 18th TAROS (Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems) conference, which takes place at the University of Surrey from 19 to 21 July.

RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) is a remote handling centre created by the UKAEA as part of the UK government’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Strategy. It is designed to enable tasks to be carried out in challenging environments – where people cannot work because conditions make it impossible or unacceptable – such as nuclear facilities, petrochemical facilities, space exploration, construction and mining.

"Keeping people out of harm’s way is going to become ever more important as humanity reaches further."

Dr Rob Buckingham

In his talk ‘Towards Zero Manual Intervention’, Dr Buckingham, the first Head of RACE, will explore some the challenges involved in creating robotics for these environments, including overcoming technical problems such as high radiation, extreme temperatures and limited access.

Dr Buckingham explains: “Robots are not people and people are not robots. Recognising this frees us up to work out what is the optimal solution using the best of what we have. Often that means designing for robots rather than thinking about them as an afterthought.”

While RACE has initially focused on finding solutions for the JET (Joint European Torus) fusion reactor programme, the technologies being developed have uses across many different industries.

“Everything we are doing in terms of sensors, software and control systems is relevant to all hazardous environments,” says Dr Buckingham. “Even specific hardware driven by particular fusion constraints are useful elsewhere – for example the slender, high payload manipulators we require for nuclear environments are also needed in space.”

“Keeping people out of harm’s way is going to become ever more important as humanity reaches further. We will need to develop robotic tools that extend our reach and enable us to work safely in really hostile places.”

He adds: “This is an important time for UK robotics. As a community we are being given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make an impact. TAROS will be a chance for old friends and new acquaintances to meet up and plan good stuff.”

Dr Rob Buckingham was a lead author of the UK’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems 2020 Strategy and formerly co-founder and managing director of OC Robotics. He is a fellow of both the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Engineering and Technology.

The other keynote speakers at TAROS will be Nicolas Heess of Google DeepMind and Professor Qingwen Wu of the Changchun Institute of Optics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. There will also be a free public lecture by Abbie Hutty, platform delivery manager of the ExoMars Rover (Airbus Defence and Space).

Find out more about TAROS 2017 or register as a participant.