Issue 55 Uncrewed Systems Technology Apr/May 2024 Sellafield’s UAV equipment l Applied EV Blanc Robot l Battery tech l Robotican’s Goshawk l UGVs l UAVHE RW1 rotary l Roboat UVD l Autopilots l Arkeocean UVD l UMEX 2024 l CycloTech UVD

24 Retrieval and confined spaces The risks involved in any retrieval effort will be judged on the same basis. While the team hasn’t sent another uncrewed vehicle to retrieve a downed UAV yet, they did use a tether on a Tiny Whoop UAV that was used in a trial where it was sent down through a 150 mm-diameter access port to take a sample from an interior wall with a swab. “We tied fishing line to it so that, in the worst case, we could pull it back up to retrieve it. It was an interesting task and it satisfied the team we were working for.” This experiment also led to Sellafield’s Game Changers challenge to develop UAVs for use in confined spaces, which went out to industry through innovation facilitator FIS 360. “Now we’ve got two companies at the proof-of-concept stage with systems that can access these sub-150 mm port entries.” BVLOS plans Until the team is granted BVLOS permissions, all the vehicles must have a remote pilot. Even though some missions are flown automatically to a pre-loaded flight plan, the regulations say the pilot must maintain visual contact with the UAV. “If we do get our BVLOS permissions through that’s the first step down the fully autonomous route,” Smith says. “We would love to get into a position where we can do that at Sellafield, particularly for emergency response. We don’t want to send pilots onto the site if there’s an incident. We would much rather they were sitting in a control room offsite and be able to fly as if they were really on site.” Meanwhile, the plan is to use BVLOS capability to open up areas that UAVs currently cannot inspect (even though they can access them) because there is nowhere the pilot can stand to maintain a line of sight with it. That might be as simple as being able to get behind a ventilation stack, for example. Looking forward, Smith would like to see Sellafield’s UAV capability begin to grow, with a balance of internal personnel and outside suppliers. “My core team is really small, and we can’t do everything all the time, so if I can use SMEs to boost what we can do internally, I can see growth taking off exponentially,” she says. “We do a lot of work across the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), and there are multiple sites with their own drone teams, so we are working together to learn from each other and gain value for money. I would like to keep that ball rolling and create a unified NDA UAV team.” April/May 2024 | Uncrewed Systems Technology In conversation | Amanda Smith Born in West Cumbria in 1980, Smith attended the Wyndham School in Egremont from the age of 11, where she developed a talent for mathematics. “I like to know a definite answer,” she says. “That’s probably why I like being an engineer, because there’s a right and a wrong answer, and you know how you got it.” Maths helped her into engineering, but via a route that narrowly avoided accountancy. “I’d applied for universities and wanted to be an accountant, but when it came to actually going to university, it just didn’t feel right, so I took a step back before I could get into a lot of student debt and run up bills for my dad to pay.” Instead, in 1999, Smith got a job at Sellafield as a technical assistant in a team tasked with testing handheld radiation detectors, subsequently joining a team of electricians and mechanical fitters, again as an assistant. The desire to do more led her to an electrical and instrumentation (E&I) apprenticeship. After excelling at this, Smith went on to gain a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in E&I engineering and associated National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) at Lakes College in West Cumbria in 2006. Five years ago, her line manager, Craig Branney, whom she regards as a mentor, suggested she take the newly open leadership position in the UAV programme. His main piece of advice about developing new capabilities was to seek forgiveness instead of permission. “We err on the side of caution and there are often barriers, but we’ve seen the benefits of UAVs and he’s a full advocate of pushing the walls down,” she says. Outside work, Smith has rediscovered the power of the gym to improve her fitness and clear her mind. Amanda Smith