Robotic hand offers innovative nuclear solution

31 May 2023

Atkins and COVVI Robotics plan to develop a robotic solution using a bionic hand that would provide "near-human" dexterity for handling nuclear materials remotely, removing the need for operators to place their hands in gloveboxes when handling nuclear materials and wastes.

The remote-controlled COVVI hand offers "near-human" dexterity (Image: COVVI)

Building on SNC-Lavalin group member Atkins' patented work to deploy collaborative robots in the nuclear sector, the two firms aim to attach COVVI's bionic hand to a robotic arm, to enable dangerous manipulations to be carried out by remote control while more closely replicating human dexterity. This will reduce the presence of humans in hazardous areas and enable glovebox operations to continue over longer periods of time, reducing risk and increasing efficiency, as well as freeing up time for site operators to focus on other activities, the companies said.

COVII's bionic hand was originally developed for people with an upper limb difference, but - when paired with a remote control system - its small weight, size and high levels of dexterity make it ideal for use in small environments, the company says.

Atkins and COVII said they have already been working together for the last six months to develop the integration between the robotic hand and collaborative robots such as Kinova Robotics' Gen3 arm that Atkins already uses to work in gloveboxes, and now intend to develop and market a new variant of COVVI's bionic hand optimised to meet the needs of the nuclear sector. Atkins is also developing a digital twin to rehearse and pre-plan glovebox activity to increase efficiency.

"Robotics hold huge potential for the nuclear sector and we expect their use to become increasingly common over the coming decade as the industry seeks to improve safety, increase efficiency and address increasing skills shortages," SNC-Lavalin's Head of Digital, Nuclear, Sam Stephens said, adding that such collaboration was crucial to help accelerate innovation and bring forward new solutions to address some of the sector's biggest challenges swiftly and cost-effectively. "The new robotic hand has the potential to reduce risk and improve productivity for the nuclear operators that we work with in partnership around the world, and we look forward to seeing it deliver results soon," he said.

"The robotics market continues to develop at pace as it becomes more affordable, scalable, and customisable," COVVI Group CEO Simon Pollard said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News