New robots reduce human risk in disaster cleanup

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization on Wednesday unveiled a series of robots and systems to help deal with disasters such as the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and reduce the danger for workers.

The robots, developed under a one-year project, include a small remote-controlled machine dubbed the Sakura that carries a camera and thermal imager.

Another is the bigger Tsubaki, which can tote measuring instruments weighing up to 50 kg to gather data from contaminated spots, such as inside the damaged reactor buildings at Fukushima.

The robots move about on treads developed by a startup firm of Chiba Institute of Technology, giving them the ability to turn around in tight spaces and climb up and down steep stairs.

NEDO also unveiled systems allowing the remote-controlled robots to recharge and decontaminate themselves so human workers are not exposed to danger.

Mitsubishi Heavy Co. developed a machine with an 8-meter arm with the dexterity to turn a valve in high places.

Cyberdyne Inc. developed a robotic suit with a metal jacket to protect a worker from radiation, an air cleaner with a filter to aid breathing and a sensor to monitor pulse and temperature.

“What is important is that we use these robots effectively, and are not satisfied with development only,” said Shoji Kukita of NEDO’s tech department.