Czech company ADVACAM and the Laboratory of Multi-robot Systems of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of CTU (MRS) in Prague have teamed up to develop a drone that will search independently for radiation.
The advantage over systems currently in use is the combination of small size and flexibility of the drones that can reach even inaccessible sites such as a forest or factory, with state-of-the-art detection technology that allows drones to find a radiation source up to 100 times more efficiently than today and at an incomparably lower cost.
The detectors will be provided by ADVACAM, a developer of state-of-the-art imaging technology, supplied even to NASA. The drone development is the responsibility of MRS, an internationally recognised team of experts in robotics and autonomous drone movement. The device will serve the police, the military, the rescue services, and nuclear power stations. The prototype should be ready in the autumn. The product should enter international markets in about a year and a half.
“The aim of the project is to create a drone capable of flying and locating radiation where existing systems are unable to operate,” says Martin Saska, head of the MRS group. The advantage for movement in hard-to-reach locations will be not only the small size of the aircraft (one, maximum two kilogrammes), but mainly the ability of autonomous flight. “We don’t need what most drones need today, and that’s a GPS signal. The drone only needs sensors that it carries itself on board, thanks to which it recognizes even complex obstacles and can move even where GPS navigation is not possible. Simultaneously, our system will be small, which will allow it to fly into an environment with obstacles, and so smart that it will be able to fly in that environment,” says Saska.
“Development of this device is possible not only thanks to excellent experts from CTU, but also thanks to detectors from ADVACAM. The latest detector to be used here is not only powerful, but also small and lightweight, allowing it to be used on a drone or even in space,” says Jan Sohar, CEO of ADVACAM. “The detector operation in the monolithic Compton camera mode is quite unique, which will allow determination of the direction of radiation for several captured particles. The drone no longer needs to search the entire space, point by point, but thanks to the knowledge of the direction, it heads straight to the source. The search speed thus increases significantly. Another advantage is the high mobility that allows it to get close to the source and identify it very quickly. Combining all the benefits will increase search efficiency by about 100 times over conventional methods,” says Jan Jakůbek, CSO of ADVACAM and the project creator.
“The innovative principle offers higher utility value compared to today’s competing products at multiple times lower costs and opens up interesting market opportunities,” says Jan Sohar. The equipment can be used in the market in particular for monitoring of security risks – checks at borders, ports, airports, in places of accidents, municipal waste repositories, regular isotope supplies for nuclear medicine, etc.
The company ADVACAM (established in 2013) followed-up on long-term scientific research of imaging detectors at CERN. Some of the researchers from the international team of researchers also came from the Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics (IEAP) at CTU from the group led by Dr. Jan Jakůbek. A few years ago, the quality of the developed technology reached the required level and therefore Jakůbek, together with experienced entrepreneur Jan Sohar, decided to establish ADVACAM as a spin-off of CTU. Patented detectors equipped with CERN chips have been sold to more than 20 countries. One of the customers is NASA, which uses the detectors on the International Space Station (ISS), and plans to use them in a mission to the Moon as well. ADVACAM detectors are most often used for industrial X-ray radiography. Currently, ADVACAM has two spin-off projects: Radalytica and InsightART. Both companies use ADVACAM detectors in combination with a robotic system. While Radalytica is developing a system for inspection of composite materials and preclinical testing of small animals, InsightART is closely focused on fine art analysis.
About the Laboratory of Multi-robot Systems at CTU, Faculty of Electrical Engineering
A group of researchers and PhD students (founded in 2015) is engaged in research mainly in the area of autonomous movement of more robots simultaneously. Most often these are flying robots, nowadays generally called drones. The laboratory carries out both basic research, namely management and planning theory for individuals and groups of drones, as well as applied research and transfers to industry. This industry-renowned group has already achieved numerous successes in international competitions: for example, a double win at the MBZIRC robotic contest (2017 and 2020) and repeated success in the American DARPA SubT contest organized by DARPA, the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is responsible for developing new military technologies.