Funding has been secured by The University of Manchester and a consortium of partners for the design, development and commercialisation of a unique low-cost, scalable mobile sensor system which can operate, survey and analyse surroundings individually or as part of a swarm in bodies of water. Commercialisation will be undertaken by UMIP, the University’s technology transfer arm.
The funding will enable the development of the University’s Aqua Vehicle Explorer for In-situ Sensing (AVEXIS) technology in two parallel work streams.
The first development project (miniROV) has been driven by Sellafield’s requirement to find a device which could access and remotely assess a storage compartment on the Sellafield site.
The tethered mini-ROV will be equipped with a video camera and will scan and assess the pond’s underwater environment and provide detailed real-time data which will be transmitted back to researchers.
The project has been funded by a consortium which includes The University of Manchester, through its UMIP Proof-of-Principle Fund, the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) IAA Exploitation Secondment Fund and Sellafield Ltd. Forth Engineering will act as a subcontractor for the majority of the mechanical work and deployment of the vehicle on Sellafield’s site. The final output of the project will be a CE marked and fully Sellafield-compliant device.
Commenting on the Sellafield project Mark Dowson, Business and Technology Manager Sellafield Ltd Technical Directorate, said: “This is a great example of industry turning to the University to help find better solutions and new technology to improve the delivery of our Decommissioning mission. This storage compartment is difficult to access for any extended period of time and sealed, so it is desirable to employ a remote device to carry out this survey. This particular mini-ROV is the perfect device as it can fit through a restricted access port, is highly manoeuvrable, and it can scan the environment and send back data for analysis.”
The second project is to further develop the core AVEXIS technology. UMIP have secured a separate funding package from partners including the University and its Dalton Nuclear Institute, Innovus and Forth Engineering. This funding will enable the development and deployment of two AVEXIS vehicles which are able to communicate with each other and a central base station, taking sensor measurements as they autonomously navigate an uncluttered environment. These untethered vehicles will be tested in Forth Engineering’s ponds.
Dr Simon Watson of the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at The University of Manchester commented: “These projects are a great example of how research can be progressed from the University into the real-world and provide benefits to both industry and academia.”
Beyond the successful development of the core technology the vision is to manufacture multiple devices, with the ability to carry different sensor payloads, providing greater functionality and with the swarming capability allowing collaboration to improve the resolution of both sensing and positioning.
Both projects are a milestone for the nuclear industry and are substantial for Cumbria. The technology is also seeking applications in the Oil & Gas and Water Sectors.