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Can This Robot Make French Nuclear Power Plants Safer?

No, RIANA isn’t a pop star (she spells her name differently), but it could become extremely popular, especially among the nuclear energy crowd.

RIANA is the acronym for Robot for Investigations and Assessments of Nuclear Areas. Definitely not too sexy for its shirt, or any other item of clothing, but potentially valuable if you run an atomic power plant and need a mobile tool that can operate in radioactive environments to map, sample and measure radioactivity.

The robot was developed by the French energy engineering company Areva Corp. to be what the firm calls the “Swiss army knife of nuclear robotics.” It’s basically a mechanized platform that can shoulder interchangeable devices, some of which measure radioactive material, some of which merely sample it to map “hot” areas.

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RIANA can be equipped either with four-wheel propulsion or with caterpillar tracks. Built in are three-dimensional and thermal cameras so that it can illustrate its environment immediately to its human controllers. It even has lasers that detect and help it avoid obstacles, and also help it situate itself accurately in tight spaces.

And most important, it’s not just a work in progress, it’s ready to use. Areva says the first model of RIANA has been delivered to France’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC says it is so impressed that it’s already ordered a second model with even more features, and some nuclear power plant operators have expressed interest in buying the robot.

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RIANA’s talents have been in development for three years. In 2012, Areva chose Energid Technologies Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., to adapt its robotic operating system, called Actin, to the French machine. The software originally was developed for NASA to simplify the interface between space robots and their human controllers.

The robot’s Human-Machine Interface, as it is called, is derived from a technology that allows RIANA’s controllers to intervene while the device is in the middle of a chore. In fact, Areva says RIANA’s work “can be executed without necessarily requiring the presence of an operator – an optional guidance program allows the robot to find its own way and to work on a site autonomously.”

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Even a break in communications won’t scrub a mission, according to Areva. In that case, the robot can be guided autonomously back to its last known location, just as if it were being directed by a human operator.

Thierry Varet, the technical director of Areva’s Dismantling & Services department, said RIANA would be well-suited for dismantling nuclear operations, especially in cases where radiation levels are dangerous for humans.

In sum, Varet says, “AREVA has extensive experience in the development of this type of technology and offers a broad catalog of complementary robotic devices that are designed to work together.”

By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com

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