Marionette™ as an enabling technology for nuclear decommissioning

In 2017 the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Innovate UK launched a search for innovative technologies that could be combined into a single seamless process for use in decommissioning key parts of the UK’s legacy nuclear sites.

In 2017 the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Innovate UK launched a search for innovative technologies that could be combined into a single seamless process for use in decommissioning key parts of the UK’s legacy nuclear sites.

DCE was invited to join a consortium headed by Wood Nuclear (now part of Jacobs). The project aimed to develop a modular system to make decommissioning cheaper, faster and safer. DCE’s key deliverable in the project was to enable the deployment of a range of waste handling and processing tools, all controlled using a single modular control system.

Central to DCE’s approach was its own proprietary Marionette™ universal robotic architecture, a safety-critical control layer which enables the addition of remote or autonomous operation to ‘unmanned vehicles’ as well as existing ‘manned’ vehicles.

Marionette™ was successfully demonstrated controlling DCE’s X2 unmanned ground vehicle and a range of payloads, including a self-loading/unloading skip system. In future DCE plans to demonstrate the utility of Marionette™ as a control system for larger machinery, such as diggers and lifting equipment within the nuclear domain. This will allow inexpensive systems such as mini diggers to be re-purposed for decommissioning, rather than having to procure costly ‘robotic by design’ systems.

John Brotherhood, Wood, Project Technical Lead, commented:

“I think the best moment in the project was during the demonstration week, when we were able to demonstrate some of the really novel concepts that we’d come up with through the project, as part of the toolkit approach to decommissioning. This really showed how we can change the way we can decommission nuclear facilities. The collaborative element of the project was very important to us; we brought a large team together which was a big challenge to manage, but it gave us different views and the different technologies we could bring to bear on the decommissioning challenge.”

Ed Gummow, Engineering Director at DCE, added:

“As a micro-SME, the opportunity to work on this project with a company such as Wood was a fantastic introduction to the nuclear industry. One of the things that impressed me most was that all of the project partners, despite their different backgrounds, really pulled together and it was a truly collaborative project.”

Marionette™ has also been used to control a number of vehicles outside of nuclear decommissioning, including the British Army’s FV510 Warrior infantry fighting vehicle and a range of tracked and wheeled all-terrain vehicles.

“I think the best moment in the project was during the demonstration week, when we were able to demonstrate some of the really novel concepts that we’d come up with through the project, as part of the toolkit approach to decommissioning. This really showed how we can change the way we can decommission nuclear facilities.”

John BrotherhoodWood, Project Technical Lead