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Think you have a lousy job? Imagine having to climb into an underground ventilation duct in Scotland’s Dounreay nuclear complex that had been sealed for 30 years. Lyra, a robot developed by University of Manchester researchers, mapped radioactive materials there early this year so humans didn’t have to. Resembling a small tank, Lyra has five radiation detectors, a laser scanner, two cameras, lights, and a manipulator arm that can take swab samples from the wall or floor of the duct. Barry Lennox, co-founder of Ice Nine Ltd., which is commercializing the technology, says the robot can accelerate the pace of decommissioning legacy nuclear facilities. Alas, the original Lyra had to be disposed of after its critical mission soaked it in plutonium and other materials. “This was a shame, as several of the researchers had become very attached to it,” Lennox says.

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