Sunday, March 27, 2011

More robots sent in to tackle crisis at Fukushima

(Image: iRobot)
Robots from other nations are joining in the efforts to stabilise the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

In addition to the Monirobo radiation monitoring robots reported previously, the Japanese have also used an unmanned fire engine. This was operated by the Tokyo Fire Department, which introduced its first robot, the Rainbow 5 water sprayer, in 1986. Such robots are used for fires which are too large or too hazardous for human fire-fighters to approach. The engine sprayed seawater from an eight-hundred-metre hose directly into the spent fuel rod pool at No. 3 reactor for thirteen hours to prevent overheating.

A much more powerful unmanned water cannon has now been flown in from Australia. Made by Bechtel Corporation, the system is manoeuvred into place remotely and can spray nine thousand litres a minute out to a distance of a hundred and fifty metres. The system includes a number of pumps and trailers and is so large that two RAAF C-17 cargo aircraft were needed to transport it from Australia to Yokota Air Base where it arrived on Tuesday.

Meanwhile the iRobot Corporation of Bedford, Massachusetts, has supplies four machines for use by Japan's Ground Self-Defence Force at Fukushima. Two 510 PackBots and two larger 710 Warriors are being sent, and members of the Self-Defence Force are being trained in their operation.
Normally used for bomb disposal and similar tasks, iRobot machines are much smaller and more agile than the tank-like Monirobo. They may be sent inside the damaged buildings, as they ar capable of climbing stairs and the Warrior could even drag a hose. However, they lack Monirobo's heavy radiation shielding.

"It's a 50/50 shot on what radiation will do to it," says Robin Murphy of CRASAR, the Centre for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at Texas University. "But if it gets valuable data, dying in place is a noble thing for a robot."

On Saturday the French group INTRA (Groupe d'INTervention Robotique sur Accidents, Robotic Intervention in Accidents) was preparing to send a team to Japan on a giant Antonov transport plane. INTRA maintains a fleet of specialised robots for use in nuclear accidents. These include the six-ton ERASE which has a powerful hydraulic manipulator, and the smaller EROS for indoor operations. A radio relay robot, ERELT, allows the machines to be controlled from several kilometres away.

"Just before loading the aircraft, we received the message that Japan declared "they don't need INTRA robots in the current situation", Michel Chevallier, INTRA's Director General, toldNew Scientist. "Our robots are now back in our headquarters."

[via newscientist]


Post a Comment