Jan. 28 - A three-man team from the University of Bristol have devised a semi-autonomous drone to help monitor radiation levels after nuclear accidents. Alarmed at the use of manned helicopters immediately after the Fukushima disaster three years ago, the researchers say their drone is a safer and less expensive alternative. Jim Drury went to see it in action.
UPSOT: DRONE It's a drone with a difference...inspired by the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan three years ago. UPSOT: DRONE It was built by researchers at the University of Bristol, alarmed at the use of manned helicopters to monitor radiation levels over the crippled nuclear plant. Dr James MacFarlane says the team concluded they could design something far better. SOUNDBITE (English) DR JAMES MACFARLANE, CO-DESIGNER OF HEXI DRONE, SAYING: "We were then looking at the reports coming out of Fukushima and we were very surprised that they were using big large helicopters for surveying radiation and these were piloted by human crews and you're putting people in risk and we thought, 'well, there has to be a better way.'" The Bristol team's solution to manned flights is called Advanced Airborne Radiation Monitoring - AARM for short. Its centrepiece is the Hexi Mark II drone, says Dr Oliver Payton. UPSOT: DRONE SOUNDBITE (English) DR OLIVER PAYTON, CO-DESIGNER OF HEXI DRONE, SAYING: "She's built using full carbon fibre with much more powerful motors. She'll fly for much longer, fly for about 25 minutes in the air, and this is all using custom electronics that we've put together, as well as Arduino-based micro controller system which talks to all of the sensors, collects the data, and sends that back to a user remotely." The 2011 Fukushima disaster was triggered by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, producing the worst radioactive leak in 25 years. Japanese authorities have called on help from a variety of foreign sources to help in the clean-up. The Bristol team hope to be involved. SOUNDBITE (English) DR JAMES MACFARLANE, CO-DESIGNER OF HEXI DRONE, SAYING: "With our system you can pilot it from a remote location, so you don't put your operator at risk, but it also flies at very low altitude and this gives you very good spatial resolution of your data, so it tells you where the radiation is on the ground. So it gives you sub-metre scale resolution." The AARM system was successfully tested for six months last year in various weather conditions at radioactively contaminated sites in Romania. And although unmanned drones are now being used instead of manned helicopters at Fukushima, the team says its AARM system is far more specialised, and ready to fly into the most dangerous places at a moment's notice.. UPSOT: DRONE