UK-based COVVI, which develops prosthetic hands and Atkins (a member of Canada’s SNC-Lavalin Group) have signed an agreement to develop a robotic solution intended to deliver near-human dexterity for use in nuclear environments. The companies will adapt COVVI’s bionic hand, originally developed for people with an upper limb difference. The hand, or ‘end effector’, will be attached to a robotic arm and will enable workers to perform dangerous manipulations remotely, even when a high level of dexterity is required. The product will be integrated into Atkins’ collaborative robotic solutions in the nuclear sector. These include its use in glovebox operations to handle nuclear materials and waste, avoiding the need for operators to place their hands in gloveboxes.

The two firms have been working together for the last six months to develop the integration between the robotic hand and collaborative robots such as Kinova’s Gen3 arm that Atkins uses to work in gloveboxes. Alongside this new solution, Atkins is also developing a digital twin to rehearse and pre-plan glovebox activity to increase efficiency.

Sam Stephens, Head of Digital, Nuclear, SNC-Lavalin, said, “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.” He added: “Working with COVVI to reconfigure their bionic hand for teleoperation combines our knowledge of nuclear, digital and robotics capabilities with COVVI’s expertise and world-leading prosthetics. It’s an example of how collaboration is crucial to help accelerate innovation and bring forward new solutions that 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 with around the world, and we look forward to seeing it deliver results soon.”

The use of a bionic hand and application of COVVI’s expertise in biomimicry aims to significantly increase durability and functionality compared with current solutions. It will more closely replicate human dexterity. The remote control of robotics (teleoperation) will reduce the presence of humans in hazardous areas and enable glovebox operations to continue over longer periods, minimising risk and speeding up project delivery. It should also free up time for site operators to focus on other high priority, skilled activity.

COVVI Group CEO Simon Pollard said the robotics market “continues to develop at pace as it becomes more affordable, scalable, and customisable”. He continued: “With over five years developing our own world-leading, multi-articulated bionic hand, COVVI was Atkins’s preferred choice to partner with to introduce this state-of-the-art technology to the nuclear sector.”

Image: The robotic hand will deliver near-human dexterity for use in nuclear environments (courtesy of COVVI)