Japan’s Toshiba showed off a new four-legged robot that is designed to venture into highly radioactive areas and assist with the cleanup efforts at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. The irony here is that Toshiba is one of the country’s larger developers of nuclear reactor technologies. Also that the robot is in such a pre-production state, filled with errors and malfunctions, that it probably shouldn’t have been unveiled at this point in development.
With its four legs, the new unnamed robot is intended to be able to climb over debris and other hazards that would be dangerous for humans, as well as recognize when the levels ofradiation are so high that it will interfere with its wireless network used for control, and then move to areas with better reception. In reality, the robot, which looks like a white box attached to four shaky metal legs, took nearly a minute to go up each step on a flight of stairs, lifting one leg at a time. And then it froze with one leg in the air, requiring a repositioning and reboot by developers. Toshiba admits that it could take as long as 10 minutes for the machine to analyze a piece of debris at the nuclear plant and how to move it. Oh, and should the robot ever topple over, it is unable to stand up on its own.
It is still unknown when this advanced tool will be completed, and there are no firm decisions on if it will be used at the Fukushima nuclear plant, however, utility company Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has expressed an interest in possibly using the robot to inspect parts of the reactors. To this day, no human has been able to enter the radiation-heavy suppression chamber where the meltdown occurred since the March 2011 disaster. Goro Yanase, a senior manager with Toshiba, said he hopes the technology they displayed could be used to go into the dangerous areas first and see what’s there.
While certain aspects of the robot are advantageous, most notably the fact that it can go into dangerous areas in place of a human, for work other than inside the meltdown chamber, a much better and more practical solution sounds like the recently unveiled robotic suit, which, controlled by brainwaves, allows a wearer to multiply their strength to lift objects.