CERN is training robot dogs to spot radiation hazards at Large Hadron Collider

CERNquadbot can go off the rails – unlike science org's existing inspector bots

Vid A four-legged robot dog has successfully performed a radiation protection test at CERN by patrolling and inspecting equipment in a small section of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC is built into a 27-kilometre circular structure beneath Switzerland and France that houses all the stuff needed to produce and smash charged particles together at close to the speed of light. That effort creates ionizing radiation that could harm staff, therefore CERN keeps a close eye on the LHC and local environmental conditions.

The atom-smashing org has employed robots to help with that chore for years. But its current fleet can't navigate obstacles.

"There are large bundles of loose wires and pipes on the ground that slip and move, making them unpassable for wheeled robots and difficult even for humans," Chris McGreavy, a robotics engineer in CERN's Controls, Electronics and Mechatronics (CEM) group, explained.

And so, officials at CERN turned to a dog-like robot, which appears to be Unitree's Go1 model priced at $2,700, to carry out an inspection test to see how well that form of remote-controllable droid performs.


An expensive hound ... CERN's rad robo-dog. Click to enlarge. Credit: M. Struik/CERN

The bot managed to complete its first radiation protection test – trotting across CERN's North Area, walking down narrow corridors and climbing stairs to examine its environment using sensors and cameras.

"We carried out a proof-of-concept survey with the Radiation Protection group in this area. There were no issues at all: the robot was completely stable throughout the inspection."

You can watch a few clips of the CERNquadbot in action below.

Youtube Video

CERN is said to be developing software to make the robodog more useful in different environments, automating or improving some of its tasks or processes, presumably. The engineers believe more robots can be deployed to monitor other parts of the particle accelerator – including the ALICE detector, where lead ions collide to produce a quark-gluon plasma.

They will program them to do different types of tasks, such as detecting incidents like water or fire leaks.

The CERNquadbot isn't the only machine helper on hand. CERN also uses modular robots on wheels that have long arms and can use tools to operate in harsh radioactive domains, and uses another type to monitor the LHC's tunnel. The Train Inspection Monorail (TIM) device carries cameras and sensors to track temperature, oxygen levels, and communication bandwidth.

The four-legged robodog, however, is more agile than its colleagues. TIMs are limited to the tunnel's ceiling and move along the monorail, whilst the CERN trundle bots cannot turn corners or travel up to different floors as easily as the CERNquadbot.

McGreavy explained how the robodog will complement the existing machines: "The TIMs are used for monitoring the large distances of the LHC from above and can travel long distances without recharging. They can deploy the quadbots in local areas to get more information about specific places that the TIM cannot easily access." ®

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