Meet the CERN robots

These are the automated libraries in the CERN data centre, which take requests for specific data from physicists. The robotic arms retrieve the correct tape from the stores and enter it into the tape reader (Image: Noemi Caraban/CERN)

From retrieving data tapes to safe handling of materials, the robots at CERN complete numerous tasks. Unlike in industry where robots are often used to make tasks faster, at CERN they’re more often used to make the environment completely safe for those working at the laboratory.

‘Robots are needed at CERN because in some places there could be potential for radiation or an electrical or magnetic field that is too high for a person to be exposed to,’ explains Mario Di Castro an engineer at CERN who works with robotics.

These industrial robotic arms handle and change targets at the ISOLDE facility (Image: CERN)

 

One of the most impressive robots at CERN, seen in the film below, is “Telemax”. It is used to inspect zones of radiation to make sure they’re safe before people enter. Controlled remotely by a specialist, it can unscrew and screw in cables, cut wires and carry out other, small, manipulation tasks.

 

The specialist operating it must know both the area it is working in and the exact workings of the robot since the robot's camera shows only what the robot "sees" not the robot itself.

Another robot in the video below is used at CERN’s Charm facility (Cern High energy AcceleRator Mixed field facility). This custom-made, semi-remote vehicle lifts and drives heavy equipment around tight corridors, and into any potentially irradiated areas that cannot be accessed by people.

LHC
This magnet-transporting robot is known as "the crab". This is the crab in action during its first tests (Image: CERN)

Many of the robots at CERN are built for industry and then adapted. Robotic arms more often used in factories to build cars, are used at CERN to handle and change targets or the production of radioactive isotopes at the ISOLDE facility. ISOLDE targets need to be changed frequently, around 30 times per year. The high radiation levels do not permit this to be done by human hands.

At one point in the video below Telemax meets the magnet-transporting robot, nicknamed the crab. This remotely-controlled robot transports the magnets used in the LHC around CERN’s magnet test facility. At 10 metres long, 3.5 metres wide and nearly 3.5 metres high the battery powered robot can reach 4 km/h when it’s not carrying one of the 35 tonne magnets

In the future, CERN may have robots able to complete tasks such as inspection or telemanipulation autonomously, with minimal human intervention. Who knows, it may lead to scenes imagined in the video below.

And now, please enjoy some dancing robots at CERN: 

Imagine if the CERN robots had an end-of-year party... (Video: Christoph Madsen/CERN)