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Assistant Professor Pingbo Tang (right) will use sophisticated imaging technology in the research project he will lead to help improve nuclear power facility operations. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Assistant Professor Pingbo Tang (right) will use sophisticated imaging technology in the research project he will lead to help improve nuclear power facility operations. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Pingbo Tang will lead a project for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve safety and maintenance effectiveness at nuclear power plants.

Tang is an assistant professor in the Del E. Webb School of Construction and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

He has been awarded an $800,000 DOE grant to support the multi-university and collaborative industry research project.

His team will use real-time image-based tracking, spatial analysis and human behavior modeling to improve operational efficiency – while also decreasing rates of accidents or other mishaps – during planned power outages that are necessary to carry out critical safety procedures.

Nuclear power plants must regularly undertake a process that requires engineers to shut down a nuclear reactor for about 30 days while completing inspection and maintenance of the structures of buildings that house the reactor. During that period, plant operators try to minimize the decrease in electrical power generation resulting from shutting down the reactor.

The task presents logistical, technical and management challenges, Tang says, primarily because such inspection and maintenance operations are almost always performed in a fast-paced and crowded work environment involving onsite project managers, engineers, construction workers and power plant staffers.

The project team plans to solve the problem through proactive computer-based workflow management, starting with the use of sophisticated video technology.

“Manual video analysis is tedious. We will use automatic videography to analyze interactions among human individuals, work spaces, equipment, and materials to see how they collectively influence safety risks and productivity,” Tang says. “This analysis should reveal insights about how to improve productivity in various stages of the process without compromising safety, and will also perhaps save time and costs.”

Tang’s expertise is in construction management, 3D computer vision, spatial analysis, productivity monitoring and workflow analysis.

He will work with co-principal investigators Allan Chasey, Nancy Cooke and Alper Yilmaz.

Chasey is an associate professor and chair of the construction management program in the Del E. Webb School of Construction with expertise in construction safety and engineering management.

Cooke is a professor of human systems engineering in the Polytechnic School and science director of the Cognitive Engineering Research Institute in Mesa, Arizona. She will contribute expertise in team cognition for understanding the performance of groups of workers in complex environments.

Yilmaz is an associate professor of geodetic engineering with the departments of civil engineering and computer science and engineering at The Ohio State University. His expertise is in computer vision, photogrammetry and scene understanding.

Collaborators also include Ronald Boring, a human factors specialist with the Idaho National Laboratory, Timothy Vaughn, an industrial hygienist with the Arizona Public Service power utility company and a safety consultant at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix, and Samuel Jones, a senior safety consultant at the Palo Verde Station.

Lisa Hogle, director of the Western Occupational Safety and Health Administration Training Institute Education Center at ASU, will help the research team by providing access to the center’s resources from the university and the U.S. Department of Labor.

For more information, see the DOE grant website:


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