Robo-Dog Deployed Into Chernobyl To Map Lingering Radiation Hotspots

Spot the robot dog at CONEXPO, 2020. Roman Korotkov/Shutterstock.com

Venturing boldly where no human should ever go, Boston Dynamics' robo-dog ‘Spot’ was recently tested in the radioactive remains of the Chernobyl Power Plant, Ukraine. Thought to be involved in radioactivity monitoring, Spot was deployed inside the New Safe Confinement and into the surrounding area of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone by researchers from the University of Bristol, reports Ukrainian news site Ukrinform.

Deployed to survey radiation levels in the Exclusion Zone and hopefully identify hotspots, Spot, accompanied by drones armed with radiation sensors, explored the large area to provide 3D images and maps of radionuclide distribution. The mission involved exploring the Red Forest, taking pictures, and identifying areas of danger.

Encapsulating a 10-square-kilometers (3.8-square-miles) area that surrounds the Chernobyl Power Plant, the Red Forest remains one of the most contaminated areas in the world after the pine trees absorbed high levels of radiation during the nuclear accident that occurred at Chernobyl's reactor 4 in 1986. Within the forest, there are also pieces of machinery dumped by relief workers following the disaster, which still retain extreme levels of radiation.

Capable of autonomous exploration, Spot seems the perfect fit to detect hotspots of radiation with no risk to human life.

Spot in action. Credit: Chornobyl NPP

The site was abandoned after the largest nuclear disaster in history, which released extreme levels of radiation into a large area near Pripyat, Ukraine. Originally covered by a steel and concrete sarcophagus, the New Safe Confinement now stands to prevent radiation leaking from the reactor into the environment and to prevent water intrusion. While workers can do work on the confinement, stringent radiation monitoring and entirely blocked off regions prevents entry by humans into the more dangerous zones of the massive structure – an environment perfect, then, for a fearless robot companion.

Built by Boston Dynamics and achieving global fame, Spot the robot dog is an agile exploration robot that uses sensors on the front to capture data and navigate a variety of terrain. Capable of scaling stairs, opening doors and even getting up after it falls over, engineers took Spot to the challenging terrain of Chernobyl as part of an ongoing effort to assess the distribution of radioactive material.

With multiple levels, debris, and forestry conditions, the area seemed perfect to utilize Spot’s impressive navigation whilst also testing how well the robot performs under such conditions.

The mission follows the completion of the first-ever drone-based mapping survey of the Red Forest by a multidisciplinary team at the University of Bristol. Using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the team carried out a survey of the Exclusion Zone and highlighted hotspots of high radiation that were previously unknown to local authorities. This information can then be used to protect visitors and workers in the region.

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