Autonomous Airborne Radiation Monitoring System

“An affordable and versatile low-altitude aerial radiation detection capability”

The Challenge

Radiation cannot be seen, smelt or felt but in significant doses can kill.   Understanding radiation and its risks and benefits can help individuals and society to make informed decisions about the use of radiation and the actions required to protect from possible harm. To minimise the risk and impact of radiation, early and rapid detection of contamination, which might be in inaccessible places, is essential as is the need to minimise the exposure of monitoring teams.

The ImiTec Autonomous Airborne Radiation Monitoring System

The ImiTec Autonomous Airborne Radiation Monitoring system (AARM) provides low-altitude mapping of radioactive contamination.  AARM delivers meter resolution maps of radiation including over high dose areas and inaccessible locations whilst minimising the risk of operator exposure.  AARM differs from current radiation detection systems in that, in near real time, it locates measures and maps radioactivity and the isotopes present thus significantly speeding and improving the efficiency of radiation detection and decision making.

AARM consists of a Kromek lightweight gamma spectrometer which with positioning devices utilises custom-built software to combine radiation and position data to produce high resolution mapping of radiation levels and allows the identification of the isotopes present.  Data is transmitted from AARM through a secured network utilising a local radio or the GPRS network to a local base station or ImiTec dedicated server either of which can be interrogated via a secure website.  Data is also stored on an SD card for subsequent downloading.

AARM can be tailored to succeed at a range of tasks involving radioactive materials including routine monitoring within nuclear sites throughout the life cycle, routine monitoring of the environment as well as defence and homeland security tasks.  In particular AARM can be used to respond rapidly to nuclear accidents or incidents providing decision makers with quick and accurate information on the radiological hazard enabling them to make timely and better informed decisions.

Benefits of AARM

AARM allows for the early and rapid detection of contamination, which might be in inaccessible places, and minimises the exposure of monitoring teams. Using AARM, a level of spatial resolution not previously achievable can be obtained and in locations where, due to the radiological hazard, controlled access is required e.g. hot zones.  Unlike with surveys performed by people, an AARM survey does not introduce the effects of shielding from the operator that would otherwise be encountered, and simultaneously reduces worker exposure to radiation.  As the SUAS platform is highly autonomous, there is only a small need for trained staff to operate the system, with only take-off and landing requiring real-time piloting from the pilot. This high degree of automation (with the route of each survey saved as a collection of GPS waypoints, altitudes and velocities) permits the same survey to be repeatedly conducted to study any change in the distribution of radioactivity over time.

The real-time data collection and transmission through a secured network to a base station allows the operators conducting the survey, as well as decision makers remote to the area being monitored, to view the results as the survey progresses and enables the near real-time integration and inclusion of the results into the site-wide monitoring and/or command and control systems.

In-line with UK CAA guidelines, AARM utilises a SUAS with an all up weight less than 7.0 kg in order for the system to be classified as a small unmanned aircraft under article 166 [16]. This low total mass, coupled with the in-built redundancy of the aerial system through the use of 6 rotor blades arranged in an X6 configuration represents a low risk of structural damage to buildings and the environment during its operation.

As well as examining the radiological contamination over an area, the vantage point offered by a surveying SUAS can be useful for other aspects of site monitoring and assurance. The installation of a range of cameras (e.g. conventional photo/video, hyperspectral and infra-red (IR)) on the underside of the platform, potentially co-incident with the radiation mapping system, would allow for structural issues or defects with the outer shell of a building to be determined.

AARM differs from current radiation detection systems in that in near real time, it locates, measures and maps radioactivity and the isotopes present thus significantly speeding and improving the efficiency of radiation detection and decision making.
AARM Characterises

  • Up to 40 minute flight time
  • Sub-metre mapping resolution for flying at 1-3 metres altitude
  • Counts per second (CPS) data transmitted in real time in 32 bit encrypted format
  • Gamma spectrometry data simultaneously recorded and stored on board
  • Accompanying software for plotting radiation data in near real time
  • Selection of Kromek CsI or CZT micro-gamma spectrometers
  • Weight (including RIAS and power supply) <7Kg
  • Range – 1km or line-of-sight (legal)
  • 7-10km actual range in manual controlled flight.
  • Autonomous deployment and mission capability
  • Safe design proven for flying on nuclear sites
  • Laser ranging to determine height above ground to ~1mm over 100m

AARM Applications

  • Rapid emergency  response  monitoring  of  radiation  events,  providing  real-time  data  on spread, source and intensity.
  • Routine monitoring of nuclear installations throughout the life cycle from new build to decommissioning.
  • Monitoring radiation in the oil and gas industry
  • Environmental monitoring for radiation hazards
  • Monitoring of combat zones for spent depleted uranium munitions.
  • Defence and Homeland security.

AARM Benefits

  • Minimise operator risk.
  • Rapid response.
  • Wide area coverage.
  • Isotopic fingerprinting.
  • Pre-programmed flight paths.
  • Terrain and hazardous environments independent (over trees, fences, buildings, steep slopes, dangerous ground).
  • Rapid, more detailed surveys.
  • Combination of radiation mapping with aerial imaging and observation.