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In a Country Known For Robots, Their Chief Tasks Didn't Include Nuclear Safety


iRobot robot

Massachusetts-based iRobot Inc. sent two Packbot and two Warrior robots to Japan to help measure radiation in contaminated areas.

Credit: Mike Fein / Bloomberg

Japan's focus on building humanoid robots that perform tasks that humans can already do, instead of building robots that can go where humans cannot, has made it more difficult to respond to the nuclear disaster that followed the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. "We should have focused on response and disaster-mitigation robots," says Satoshi Tadokoro, who builds search-and-rescue robots at Tohoku University. Even after a 1999 nuclear accident, Japanese organizations as well as private robotics companies, did not focus on disaster-mitigation robots.

However, Japan's Nuclear Safety Technology Center has built two robots that feature equipment designed to withstand high radiation and provide disaster assessments. One of the robots was dispatched to the Fukushima Daiichi site last week. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy is evaluating its robotic inventory at the request of the Japanese government, according to an agency spokeswoman. The Energy department has built several robots designed to clean up radioactive waste.

Internationally, France and Germany are the only countries with ready-to-launch robots that are designed to deal with nuclear disasters.

From The Washington Post
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Abstracts Copyright © 2011 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


 

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