The 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may be a distant memory to those of us in the U.S., but the consequences of that disaster are a daily reality for the Japanese. As you might imagine, cleaning up the site of a nuclear fallout isn’t like cleaning up your messy apartment: it’s a life-threatening task that must be handled with the utmost care.
Obviously, there are few humans who want to be tasked with such an endeavor, so the Japanese robotics industry has developed an artificial clean-up crew instead. Hitachi recently unveiled the ASTACO-SoRa robot, a mechanical presence powerful enough to lift 330 pounds in each arm, but thin enough to move through most tight passages it might encounter among the rubble.
The robot is controlled wirelessly from a control panel that can be placed far outside the contaminated zone. The control panel provides the operator with multiple views of the robot’s surroundings via six on-board cameras. The robot’s arms have a reach of about 8 feet and can be equipped with various tools for cutting and lifting. Still the robot is only about 3 feet across at its widest point giving it access to small areas that would be too claustrophobic for a human. A laser sensor tells the robot how wide an opening is, while other sensors help it to track radiation levels.
Other companies have developed radiation-resistant robots in the past, but none have had the brute strenth demonstrated by the ASTACO-SoRa. The only limitation of the machine seems to be an inability to navigate stairs, since it’s mobility comes from tank-like treads. Hitachi said it may deploy the lifter robot at the plant next year.