VIDEO: Robotic superhero meets identical twin in fusion energy machine

2 min read

A highly dextrous, Jenga-playing robot with a human touch used to maintain a fusion energy machine has met its identical superhero twin for the first time.

Both known as MASCOT, the identical manipulators are being put through their paces in a series of practice ‘rescue missions’ where each saves its stranded sibling to limit potential disruption to world-leading fusion energy research at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), Oxfordshire.  

The development of ‘self-recovering’ robots to go where humans can’t, is key to making fusion energy a safe, sustainable, low carbon energy source for generations to come. 

The £1.5m project has been funded by the EUROfusion programme and worked on by over 40 engineers at UKAEA’s robotics centre, RACE (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) to support future science experiments on fusion energy machines including JET and its successor, ITER, in the south of France.   

Gary Hermon, remote handling lead technologist at UKAEA, said: “The second MASCOT is now in place to train our remote handling team in rescue tasks ensuring its twin can always be saved when working on the maintenance of JET, our machine where EUROfusion researchers set a sustained fusion energy record announced earlier this year.   

“Robotic maintenance systems are an integral part of putting fusion energy on the grid and JET is the currently the only fusion energy machine in the world that uses remote handling and robotics for maintenance.  This places the UK at the forefront of this technology and expertise.” 

The 32-month project included:  

  • Wiring of a Boom extension to support MASCOT and associated feedback components 
  • Design and integration of an Auxiliary Joint Controller (AJC) to control the winch, cyclops camera, and camera arm
  • Update of Boom Control Software (BCS) and Human Machine Interface (HMI) 
  • Design and manufacture of multiple bespoke recovery tooling and equipment 

The meeting of the two MASCOTs is shown in this video where engineers hone their skills in a game of Jenga.

Each MASCOT has two arms with grippers that can operate over 900 bespoke tools. The MASCOTs are each deployed into JET – or its replica training vessel - on the end of an articulated 12-metre boom, driven by UKAEA’s remote handling team from a control room fitted out with screens that contain live camera feeds and VR screens for additional precision views.  

Skilled operators use two local robot arms to control MASCOT as it performs tasks including replacing tiles, welding, cutting, dust collecting and surveying to maintain UKAEA’s fusion energy machine.  

Robotics and other advanced technologies developed for fusion are expected to be useful for applications across other sectors such as nuclear decommissioning, space exploration, mining, healthcare, and transport.