AI News, Robot Vacuum Sucks Up Radiation at Fukushima Plant

Robot Vacuum Sucks Up Radiation at Fukushima Plant

Editor's Note: This is part of IEEESpectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

After Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, U.S. firm iRobot sent four of its rugged, tank-like robots to help with recovery operations at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

TEPCO built the system by taking an industrial-grade vacuum and attaching its business end to the manipulator arm of a Warrior, iRobot's strongest mobile robot.

By remote controlling the bot from a safe distance, workers planned to clean up radioactive debris and sand, which collected on the floor when the tsunami flooded the plant.

Post: [FoR&AI] Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

A great tsunami was triggered with maximum wave height believed to be 42.5 meters (133 feet) and a few minutes after the earthquake it hit the town of Miyako, 432 kilometers (300 miles) north of Tokyo.

Hundreds of kilometers of the coastal region was devastated with almost 16,000 deaths, over 2,500 people missing, and three quarters of a million buildings either collapsed, partially collapsed, or were severely damaged.

That phrase was a cleaned up version of a title of a paper⁠1 I had written in 1989 with Anita Flynn: “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System”, where we had proposed the idea of small rovers to explore planets, and explicitly Mars, rather than large ones that were under development at that time.

J.League is the Japan Professional Football League, and the J-village was, until the earthquake and tsunami, the central training facility for that league, with multiple soccer pitches, living quarters, a gym, swimming pool, and large administrative buildings.

The J-village was now the headquarters of the operation to deal with the radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, when the tsunami had hit it, ultimately leading to three of its six reactors melting down.

The J-village was right on the border of a 20 kilometer radius exclusion zone established around that plant, and was being operated by TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company which owned Fukushima Daiichi, along with Fukushima Daini, also in the exclusion zone, whose four reactors were able to be shut down safely without significant damage.

In a 2002 book⁠2 I told the story of our early adventures with that company and how our micro-rovers being tested at Edwards Air Force Base as a potential passenger on a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO, popularly known as “Star Wars”) mission to the Moon forced NASA’s hand into adding the Sojourner rover to the Pathfinder mission.

That led the way for our Packbot robots to be deployed in the thousands in Afghanistan and Iraq searching for nuclear materials in radioactive environments, and dealing with road side bombs by the tens of thousands.

Once they were sent into the reactor buildings they would be too contaminated to ever come back to us.  We sent people from iRobot to train TEPCO staff on how to use the robots, and they were soon deployed even before the reactors had all been shut down.

None of them had digital monitoring installed, so as they overheated and explosions occurred and they released high levels of radiation there was no way to know what was going on inside the reactor buildings.  The four smaller robots that iRobot sent, the Packbot 510, wieighing 18kg (40 pounds) each with a long arm, were able to open access doors, enter, and send back images.

Sometimes they needed to work in pairs so that the one furtherest away from the human operators could send back signals via an intermediate robot acting as a wifi relay.

The robots were able to send images of analog dials so that the operators could read pressures in certain systems, they were able to send images of pipes to show which ones were still intact, and they were able to send back radiation levels.

Satoshi Tadokoro, who sent in some of his robots later in the year to climb over steep rubble piles and up steep stairs that Packbot could not negotiate, said⁠3 “[I]f they did not have Packbot, the cool shutdown of the plant would have [been] delayed considerably”.

The two bigger brothers, both were the 710 model, weighing 157kg (346 pounds) with a lifting capacity of 100kg (220 pounds) where used to operate an industrial vacuum cleaner, move debris, and cut through fences so that other specialized robots could access particular work sites.

We then entered a highly instrumented minibus, sealed from unfiltered external air circulation, and headed north on the Rikuzenhama Highway.  The first few villages we saw were deserted but looked well kept up.

We watched remotely as one was inside one of the reactor buildings measuring radiation levels–in some cases levels so high that a person could only spend just a few minutes per year in such an area.

We saw almost (at that time) 1,000 storage tanks, each with about 1,000 tons of contaminated ground water that came down the hill during rainfall and then would be contaminated as it seeped through the ground around the reactor buildings.

We saw where along the ocean side of the reactor buildings workers had installed a steel wall from interlocking pylons driven into the seabed, holding back the ocean but more importantly stopping any ground water from leaking into the ocean.

Eventually we drove down to right near reactor number four, and saw the multi-hundred ton superstructure that had been installed over the building by remotely operated cranes so that the undamaged fuel rods could be lifted out of the damaged water pools where they were normally stored.

And finally we received a briefing about the research plans on how to develop new robots that starting around the year 2020 would be able to begin the decades long clean up the three melted down reactors.

The robots that iRobot sent were controlled by operators who looked at images sent back to decide where they should go, whether they should try to climb a pile of debris or not, and give the robots detailed instructions on how to handle unique door handles.

console and in some cases you might just be able to make out the reflection of the operators in protective suits wearing breathing equipment.] Below we see a 510 model confronted by relatively light debris that it will be able to get over fairly safely.

They had an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based operating system, known as Aware 2.0, that allowed the robots to build maps, plan optimal paths, right themselves should they tumble down a slope, and to retrace their path when they lost contact with their human operators.

This does not sound much like sexy advanced AI, and indeed it is not so advanced compared to what clever videos from corporate research labs appear to show, or painstakingly crafted edge-of-just-possible demonstrations from academic research labs are able to do when things all work as planned.

What about all those wonderful robots we have seen over the years, in the press, the ones that look like Albert Einstein, or the humanoids that have been brought into science museums around the United States for shows, or the ones we see brought out whenever a US President visits Japan4.

Like the humanoid ones that walk on two legs, though with bended knees, which does look a little weird, turning to the audience and talking from behind a dark glass visor, sometimes seeming to interact with people, taking things from them, handing things to them, chatting, etc.

as a student, post-doc, faculty (both places), or more recently, emeritus professor. Through companies that I have co-founded, iRobot and Rethink Robotics (and yes, I was also once a co-founder and consultant for eight years to a silicon valley AI software company–it eventually failed, and then there was the robotics VC firm I co-founded, and then, etc., etc.), I have been involved in putting a lot of robots to work in five different domains–less than a handful of robots on other planets, tens of millions of robots vacuuming people’s floors, thousands of robots in the military for forward reconnaissance and for handling improvised explosive devices, robots in thousands of factories around the world working side by side with people, and many hundreds of robots in research labs all over the world, used for experiments in manipulation. I think it is fair to say that companies that I have cofounded have put more AI into more robots, and in more domains of application, than anyone else, ever.

All of these robots have had some level of AI, but none come remotely close to what the popular press seems to believe about robots and what many prognosticators warn about, sometimes as imminent dangers from AI and robots.

I do believe that there are plenty of ethical decisions facing us humans as we deploy robots in terms of the algorithms they should be running, but it is far, far, from having robots making ethical decisions on the fly.

Why am I seen as an outlier in my opinions of where AI is going?  In my dealings with individual researchers in academia and industrial research laboratories, and in my discussions with C-level executives at some of the best known companies that use AI, I find much common ground, and general agreement with my positions.

At that time AI was not a term that ever appeared in the popular press, IBM went out of its way to say that computers could not think, only people could think, and AI was not thought of appropriate stature to be part of many computer science departments.

I was there and watched all this unfold in real time–it was something akin to watching paint dry as there were regularly 10 to 20 minute intervals when absolutely nothing happened and a robot just stood there frozen.

I do not view self driving cars as doomed by any of these problems, in fact I am sure they will become the default way for cars to operate in the lifetimes of many people who are alive today.

I particularly recommend lectures 12a and 12b on neural networks and deep neural networks to all those who want to understand the basics of how deep learning works–the only prerequisite is a little multi-variable differential calculus.

Hello World! Once upon a time (Y’all ain’t gonna believe this )…long ago, on March 11, 2011….in a place called Fukushima…

“Humans and robots cannot get close enough to the available reactor cores for long enough to attempt any of the suggestions [other than put the reactor cores under water immediately].

And our faint hopes it might be a lil better are smashed to smithereens.  “….LUCY:……….regarding comments and concepts discussed in facebookland….some are moving in the right direction, but the magnitude of this issue of 3+ reactor cores in meltdown since 3.11.11 is way beyond that.

Makes any ‘remediation effort’ a little challenging, wouldn’t you agree?!!!…..” “All other “options” [being promoted by nukers and nuker sympathizers et al] involve humans and machines in close proximity to Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors.

The smashed reactors’ radiation kills a human in under 7 minutes and a robot in under 3 hours.  That removal Operation could take 2 years, probably longer.

“Without nukes being involved” the “other option” could slaughter 150,377 People – that is real people – not theories, while the radiation spewing continuously from the reactors continues to kill and maim millions, even billions, around the world.

Once upon a time (Y’all ain’t gonna believe this )…long ago, on March 11, 2011….in a place called Fukushima… Long ago, on March 11, 2011…… three NUCLEAR REACTORS were reported by the various agencies to have melted down..…within hours of loss of cooling pools of water……and several others reportedly … “….The officials demanded calm and peace, and lied to the Many that ‘there is no immediate danger’ and assured that ‘cold shut down’ would be achieved.

to get the job done, taking them away from their work of learning how to ‘shut off the sun’….” “…Alas, the reactors, still in meltdown, were still tooo ‘hot’ for humans or robots………..alll that came in contact with Reactors #1, 2, 3 and sometimes 4 ……had sad and immediate consequences…” ########################## Read Now Posted on June 17, 2012 2

“There are more radioactive particles in the air, up to 5000 meters or 16,404 ft high, than all of us on Earth, total – about 7.3 Billion.

  The only feasible solution is to put the reactor cores under water […] ########################## Read Now Posted on May 22, 2012 2

  The only feasible solution is to put the reactor cores under water immediately… Fukushima multiple reactor meltdowns is many many many more times worse than Chernobyl…..bigger, badder, uglier and substantially more lethal….short term and long term…..

(and the long term has been dramatically shortened by inaction since 3.11.11)….” “…LUCY:  short version is it’s good to see you’re thinking in the right direction and that you get it that the reactor cores must be under water, however, the technology doesn’t exist to allow man or robot to get close enough to make that happen.

Please see blog for more info on the subsidence explosives and cooperation required to make a new harbor where Daiichi reactors have melted through….” “….LUCY:Working on a fresh post regarding comments and concepts discussed in facebookland….some are moving in the right direction, but the magnitude of this issue of 3+ reactor cores in meltdown since 3.11.11 is way beyond that.

THREE+ REACTORS HAVE BEEN IN MELTDOWN SINCE 3.11.11 and #4 is of questionable status, and is a pro-nuker media tool du jour.   It was likely a beneficial media move to ensure TEPCO bailout and reorganization support.

In the case of Fukushima, PUT THE REACTORS UNDER WATER (and have an international team of nuke-subs retrieve the hot cores for storage….they cannot reach the hot-rods any other way)……humans nor robots can do the proposed non-sense at Reactor #4!  Scientifically IMPOSSIBLE.   #4 stories hint of pro-nuker killer propaganda blitzing, designed to delay, distract, divide and allow more deaths, with plausible deniability.    IMHO.” #################################### Read Now Posted on May 12, 2012 3

The smashed reactors’ radiation kills a human in under 7 minutes and a robot in under 3 hours.  That removal Operation could take 2 years, probably longer.

“Without nukes being involved” the “other option” could slaughter 150,377 People – that is real people – not theories, while the radiation spewing continuously from the reactors continues to kill and maim millions, even billions, around the world.

It’s nearly nine months [as of 12/08/11]  of non-stop spewing  of radiation from Fukushima.   It’s time to ask the hard questions  LOUD AND CLEAR about Fukushima, and what it means … Posted on December 11, 2011 4

“Should old acquaintances dead from radiation poisoning be forgotten… and never brought to mind….”      Physicists and other clued in people all over the world knew the reactors would melt down … Posted on December 31, 2011 hello world.

act now or rest in peace FUKUSHIMA SUMMARY :: Alert Alarm ::  Physicists and other clued in people all over the world knew the reactors would melt down within 14 hours without tons of cooling water … Posted on January 1, 2012 7

FUKUSHIMA…..SAFE?  NOT!     Truth is a useful antidote to propaganda lies about ‘safety’ and ‘containment’ and ‘decontamination’.   If you’re creative, let’s draft up some easy to share COUNTER ”media pieces’ and … Posted on February 5, 2012  

We act now or We Wait … till the remaining tons and tons and tons of radioactive isotopes EXPLODE INTO THE AIR THOSE FUKUSHIMA MELTING DOWN REACTORS NEED TO BE UNDER WATER NOW….and all reactors need to be shut down now, thank you very much!  End of Story.  It was a nice … Posted on February 12, 2012 2

LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS.  NOW.” 2 seconds ago “Definition of FORKED TONGUE : intent to mislead or deceive —usually used in the phrase to speak with … Posted on April 12, 2012 3

(THEN LET’S TRY THEM!!!) All nuke reactors leak all the time.  Some leak more than others.    Meltdown is another story.  Multiple meltdowns are often considered catastrophic in civilized society.

To the People and the Powers of: CHINA, FRANCE, ISRAEL, RUSSIA, UK AND USA …… INDIA, PAKISTAN AND SURROUNDING COUNTRIES…… From:  NOBODY IN THE USA and FRIENDS AROUND THE WORLD … List of Posts “CLICK” TO FOLLOW LINKS DIRECTLY TO BLOGS     Share Freely Tell your friends and neighbors about Fukushima Multiple Reactor Meltdowns since 3.11.11 and tell your friends and neighbors to tell … Posted on May 31, 2012 1

Lucy Occupy DEMANDS to know: “SAYS WHO??!!!!” “…..Become a member of groups your friends have joined….” Is it a ROUND UP or is it the Facebook Thought Police making a genuine attempt to be helpful?  [ See … Posted on June 11, 2012

################################# A smart FB Friend recently said the following: “the fuel has left the reactors… and they have no clue … Posted on July 4, 2012

Once upon a time (Y’all ain’t gonna believe this )…long ago, on March 11, 2011….in a place called Fukushima… Long ago, on March 11, 2011…… three NUCLEAR REACTORS were reported by the various agencies to have melted down..…within hours of loss of cooling pools of water……and several others reportedly …

tell the world about Fukushima….start with your friends and neighbors, and keeping telling people….one post at a time…..one tweet…..one blog…..one email….one gmail….one video………….

She was talking to the policemen in front of us, telling them and to us that young policemen from all over Japan have been sent to the areas contaminated with radiation without adequate protection against radiation exposure.