About FRIENDS project

The most cutting-edge technologies are emerging from nuclear science to the most critical needs of society, such as energy production or medical diagnosis and treatment. The principle is based on nuclear reactions. The entire process has to be performed under very supervised and controlled scenarios. The management of activated components, such as nuclear waste, has also to be considered.

Activated components can be found in addressed scenarios, such as in reactor outages, laboratory test facilities, storage areas with contaminated loads for fusion and fission reactors and with particular equipment used, for instance, in health physics. Criminal or unauthorized acts involving nuclear or other radioactive material have also to be considered and, hence, public scenarios including airports are envisaged. However, given the growing use of nuclear reactions as a versatile and powerful tool, the risk of nuclear accidents cannot be neglected. Indeed, the search and rescue operations in scenarios of nuclear disaster tackle an important challenge already for the present. In most cases, the sites become cluttered with malfunctioning or broken communication infrastructures, preventing sending and receiving information from the outside world.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as "drones" are a technology that grew faster than the potential applications. A drone is able to carry out different missions of inspection and supervision in most of the scenarios with the minimum disturbance. A drone is a cheap and replicable device, providing the needs for an easy fleet construction, in particular, for scenarios where the human being should be avoided or the lifetime of the electronic devices is reduced given the exposition of the semiconductors to the radiation.

The objectives of the project are to design, develop and validate a fleet of drones equipped with navigation and radiological sensors for inspection and monitoring of scenarios with nuclear threats. The fleet under a cooperative navigation system is able to map the scenario, localize and quantify the sources of radiation and thus evaluate the level of threat. The communication is important to remotely manage and control the fleet and, at the same time, acquire the maximum information. In case of disaster, the fleet is able to support an emergency network communication channel to establish the interface between elements in the field and the outside world. The communication system shall be designed to optimize the coverage, redundancy, security, range and bandwidth.

The synergy of the IST research labs involved (IPFN, ISR, C2TN and IT) will be exploited for the success of the project, given their experience and background on nuclear science, robotics and communications. In addition, the campus of IST in C2TN, provides excellent test facilities with a controlled storage building of activated components to perform validation of the developed solution.


  • Fleet of drones in autonomous operation;
  • Communication between all the drones and a ground station;
  • 3D representation of the scenario enriched with color, thermographic and radiological information;
  • Localization, quantification and identification of sources of radiation;
  • Experimental tests in real and controlled scenarios of radiation.

Ongoing Work

Synchronized raw data acquired from laser range finder, RGB, depth and thermal cameras.
First experimental results with LOAM (Lidar Odometry and Mapping in Real-time).
First experimental results with LOAM in outdoor scenario (garden of IST campus).
First experimental results with radioactive hotspots detection using 3D reconstruction.
First experimental flights using a preliminary design of a duct-drone, i.e., the propellers are inside ducts to improve the performance and safety of the drone.

On-board Technologies