The AARM project has attracted much international attention as well as winning innovation awards from the University of Bristol (2013 NEC competition) and the Royal Academy of Engineering (2014 ERA award). The system is currently being taken towards commercialisation by University spin-out company Imitec Ltd. led by CEO Chris Abbott, an expert in radiological detection and incident response.
In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented scale hit the eastern coast of Japan exacting a deadly toll on coastal areas. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (FDNPP) was severely stricken by the tsunami, causing two of its reactor cores to overheat and then explode, causing a significant atmospheric release of radioactive material. Most of this material was removed from the atmosphere by rainfall but contaminated a large area of land extending up to 200 km from the site. The inundation also disabled 23 of the 24 radiation monitoring stations surrounding the site, leaving disaster response teams effectively ‘blind’ to the ensuing radiation hazard. Monitoring around the site was later performed by both government and non-government specialists in the hours and days following the event. Helicopter-based activities (including monitoring) were conducted at the risk of significant radiation exposure to the crews because a suitable alternative was not available.
In addition, some 100,000 people were forced to evacuate the local area, many from areas which did not receive any significant radioactivity. No radiation mapping data was available to inform this decision and even today, metre scale radiation mapping capability is still needed to assist with clean-up efforts and to provide assurance that people's homes are safe to return to.
Today drones can provide that much-needed alternative.
We have developed the AARM system (Advanced Aerial Radiation Monitoring) which can be used to provide visual and thermal monitoring of radiation after a release of nuclear material. The first international radiation mapping exercises conducted by the AARM team took place in 2012, in collaboration with the Uranium Mining Company of Romania and at a series of abandoned uranium mining facilities.
Subsequently the AARM system has been developed to be compliant with a number of stringent safety and redundancy requirements (in addition to standard CAA requirements) for flying over Sellafield and other UK nuclear facilities. This included the development of a detailed safety case, risk assessments and protocols for flying. In 2014 and 2015, the AARM-X8 has been used for mapping flights over parts of the FDNPP exclusion zone in collaboration with the University of Kyoto.
With respect to the Drones for Good competition, it is our dedicated intention to use our technology to help people in Japan and other areas with high radiation levels, to provide accurate sub-metre scale mapping of radiation in order to better quantify and define the risk posed to populations. We wish to help reassure those wishing to return to their homes in Japan whether it is safe to return.