Spin-out of fusion robotics to health care and industry

February 19th 2018

On Tuesday 20 February, the Dutch Remote Handling Study Center (RHSC) for research into remotely controlled robots has spun out to became an independent entity. RHSC was founded within the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research DIFFER in collaboration with Heemskerk Innovative Technology and developed maintenance techniques for future fusion reactors such as ITER. The spin-out enables RHSC to broaden its scope to include industrial maintenance and even health care.


Dr.ir. Cock Heemskerk (director HIT, left) and
Dr. Wim Koppers (institute manager DIFFER, right)
formalize the spin-out of the Remote Handling Study Center.
photo: DIFFER / Alex Poelman

The Remote Handling Study Center RHSC couples human insight and natural motor skills to remotely operated robots, using advanced computer assistance. This allows operators to safely perform tasks in sensitive or inaccessible environments that are too complex for a computer controlled system. Operators in the study center can use force feedback to experiment with maintenance procedures in a lifelike simulation, avoiding the costly and time-consuming manufacture of prototype systems. The spin-out of the center allows for application of its experience in fields beyond its current focus on fusion energy, opening up opportunities in health care but also maintenance for the European Spallation Source ESS.

Remote handling for the ITER fusion project

The Remote Handling Study Center was founded in 2011 to research remote maintenance technology for the international nuclear fusion project ITER . In this worldwide collaboration, researchers and industrial partners are building the first fusion experiment to produce more power from nuclear fusion than is needed to drive and control the reaction. ITER is the last experiment on the way to realizing a safe, clean and sustainable for of concentrated power production.

RHSC-founders Heemskerk Innovative Technology (HIT) and the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research DIFFER used the study center to develop maintenance procedures for ITER using remotely controlled robots. Their work contributed to the maintainability of the reactor, which will become activated by neutrons from the fusion reaction during operation.

The study center won tenders to analyse the design and maintainability of several ITER components, such as some of the meters long port plugs which contain complex diagnostics and control systems to measure and optimise the state of the fusion reactor.  The study center won tenders to analyse the design and maintainability of several ITER components, such as the meters long port plugs, complex diagnostical and control systems that regulate the fusion reaction. These tasks from Fusion for Energy, the European tendering organization for ITER, will be continued after the spin-out of the Remote Handling Study Center.


Operator in the Remote Handling Study Center


Simulating remote maintenance of
components in the international fusion project ITER.