RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments, http://www.race.ukaea.uk/) was founded in 2014 as part of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) fusion research and development programme - to create robots for operating in some of the most challenging environments imaginable. UKAEA’s wider mission is to lead the commercial development of fusion power and related technology, and position the UK as a leader in sustainable nuclear energy.
Based at Culham Science Centre near Oxford and at a new technology facility in South Yorkshire, UKAEA runs the UK’s fusion research programme and operates the Joint European Torus (JET) fusion experiment on behalf of scientists from 28 European countries. UKAEA is keeping the UK at the forefront of fusion as the world comes together to build the first powerplant-scale experiment, ITER – one step away from the realisation of nuclear fusion as a carbon-neutral energy source. JET serves as a test base for ITER, as well as future fusion demonstration powerplants putting electricity on the grid such as DEMO and UK’s own future STEP powerplant.
Future fusion power stations require efficient robotic servicing to guarantee safety and to maximise efficiency. Such devices are built to be run without direct human intervention, at best through sophisticated tele-operation. Such robots require some of the most advanced robust, nonlinear controllers to cope with the extreme problem of load, temperature and radiation. The relevant tele-operation systems acting at high level need to be able to take possible human errors of the operator teams into account, developing safe information, decision and control strategies.
A PhD studentship is available to carry out work on the following project:
This project will focus on control of large-scale robotics systems, in particular when they are subject to extreme conditions in terms of payload and vibration. Under these operating conditions, flexible behaviour for both joints and links may not be negligible and must be considered for control design. When the payload is required to move in a confined environment, the robotic arm may need to be used to attenuate the vibration of the flexible load.
The Telescopic Articulated Remote Mast (TARM) is a large, flexible, slender manipulator originally designed for use maintaining the outside of the JET reactor. It has since been renovated and made available for use in the RACE B1 Work hall. As a case study, the TARM will be modelled at different levels of fidelity, and robust adaptive techniques will be used to design suitable controllers. Availability of sensing information and control bandwidth in the actuation must be carefully considered. The main aim of the project is to identify suitable techniques and develop novel control algorithms to cope with uncertain payloads and flexible behaviour in links and joints. Finally, a feasibility study on the attenuation of vibration modes for flexible loads will be considered.
The candidate will be working in the group of Dr Joaquin Carrasco and Prof Alexander Lanzon building on the expertise of control systems and reinforcement learning for robotic control.
The PhD-researcher will be embedded into the growing control and robotics group at the University of Manchester of more than 60 researchers, created through a set of significant UKRI/EPSRC grants (e.g. https://rainhub.org.uk/). The scholarship is part the strategic relationship between the University of Manchester and UKAEA. The student will be supervised by academics at the University of Manchester and RACE robotics experts.
Applicants should be educated to at least 1st Class/2:1 (or UK equivalent) BEng/MEng (Hons) level and will have a strong numerate, typically 1st, degree in engineering (electrical/electronic), mechanical engineering or mechatronics. A Master’s degree is desirable but not essential. The applicants should ideally have a background in/knowledge of modern intelligent control methods, robotics and interests in one of the mentioned problems. Demonstrable experimental experience is to a great advantage.
Proposed start date: September 2022
Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.
We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder).