AI News, Videos of PackBot Robots Inside Fukushima Reactors Released

Videos of PackBot Robots Inside Fukushima Reactors Released

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

It's quite a sight to watch the robots negotiating steps, rolling over debris, and pointing their cameras to sensors and other equipment inside the badly damaged buildings.

The last video shows what appear to be sensor readings that reveal low oxygen levels and high radioactivity.

How Battle-Tested Robots Are Helping Out at Fukushima

Though the two companies designed the robots primarily to assist soldiers in war zones, they quickly modified the machines to respond to the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that ravaged the Japanese coastline and overwhelmed the Fukushima nuclear reactor.

iRobot outfitted its 510 PackBot with the company's full hazmat kit: a collection of sensors rigged to detect environmental oxygen levels, temperature, gamma radiation, and hazardous materials and chemicals.

With a base about the size of a carry-on suitcase, the relatively lightweight PackBot (between 48 and 60 pounds) can weave through wreckage while streaming live video and environmental data down hundreds of feet of fiber-optic cable.

3 showed between 28 and 57 millisieverts of radiation per hour (250 millisieverts is the maximum allowed per year for a reactor worker).

Both PackBot and Warrior are equipped with 'flipper technology,' an extra set of teardrop-shaped wheels that can rotate 360 degrees, with the point of the teardrop shape acting as a pivot that propels the robots up flights of stairs.

QinetiQ trained 26 people from TEPCO, the Japanese power company in charge of Fukushima, to make use of the videos streaming in from all three QinetiQ robots to produce a multidirectional view of the debris being picked up by the BOBCAT.

Robotics industry learns from successes and failures at Fukushima

Without robots, there would be no safe way to clean up the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The problem is that recently, some of the robots being used in the most dangerous and critical part of the cleanup of the 2011 nuclear plant disaster failed.

The cleanup and decommissioning of the Fukushima power plant, which is expected to take 30 to 40 years and cost tens of billions of dollars, depends on robots of various sizes and shapes.

The entire cleanup of the station's basement at Three Mile Island, which had hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated water and debris, was handled robotically.

'In this nuclear robotics community, since these apps are really critical, rather than relying on autonomy, we’re relying on human control… We use proven technology.

Say, you have a robot running autonomous code and your collision avoidance algorithms break and [the robot] starts crashing into structures inside the reactor.

While the nuclear industry needs to play it safe with the robots being sent into Fukushima, it still needs to get the most radiation-resistant and toughest robots available.

The International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, or IRID, in 2014 reported that a swimming robot and a crawling robot, both developed by Hitachi GE Nuclear Energy, were able to perform checks using cameras and sensors inside five penetration points in one damaged reactor.

Security unit at iRobot Corp., began delivering robotic systems to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, which owns the Fukushima plant, just 19 days after the 2011 accident.

The Endeavor robots mainly have been used inside reactor buildings to open doors, perform inspections and check for leaks.

This is the most critical work — getting into the tight, highly radioactive areas where the fuel needs to be assessed and cleaned up — and the robots needed for that are failing.

Tepco reported last month that a Scorpion robot, developed by Toshiba and the IRID, was on a mission to investigate temperatures and radiation levels in a damaged reactor when it got stuck.

A lesson learned from that incident, the company said that a laser will be installed on future robots to improve their spatial ability, as well as to enable the machines to check for obstacles and openings while moving.

The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge demonstrated two-legged humanoid robots that could climb stairs, walk over piles of rubble, use drills, climb ladders and drive cars, among other tasks.

Ideas range from robots that use legs instead of tracks, robots that combine walking with swimming, and robots with higher levels of radiation protection.

If a robot has a six-piece body, for instance, and one piece gets stuck in the rubble, the stuck component could detach itself while the rest of the robot moves ahead with the mission.

This is a major challenge for the robot’s operator, who is working under heavy stress to direct the robot, guided only by what the machine’s sensors and cameras see.

PackBots record video inside Fukushima reactor

TOKYO--iRobot PackBots are being used to explore the interior of reactor buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was severely damaged in last month's massive tsunami and subsequent hydrogen blasts.

The battle-hardened PackBots, sent to Japan along with iRobot Warriors, have been recording high levels of radiation at the plant, where operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) struggles to restore key cooling functions.

In other video related to the plant, a Honeywell T-Hawk micro air vehicle sent to Japan to help with the nuclear crisis has recorded footage of the damaged exterior of the Fukushima plant.

Robots Enter Fukushima Reactors, Detect High Radiation

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

The Associated Press is reporting that two PackBot ground robots from iRobot have entered Unit 1 and Unit 3 of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and performed readings of temperature, oxygen levels, and radioactivity.

The data from the robots, the first measurements inside the reactors in more than a month since a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant, revealed high levels of radioactivity -- too high for humans to access the facilities.

Traveling on miniature tank-like treads, the devices opened closed doors and explored the insides of the reactor buildings, coming back with radioactivity readings of up to 49 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1 and up to 57 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 3.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends an evacuation after an incident releases 10 millisieverts of radiation, and workers in the U.S. nuclear industry are allowed an upper limit of 50 millisieverts per year.

Robots might be capable of navigating inside the reactors and assessing their environments, as the PackBots did, but they probably won't be able to perform major repairs and clean-up work -- just the kind of job we'd expect robots to do.

Though the APreported previously that the robots made measurements inside Unit 3, the new report quotes TEPCOofficials saying that the robot 'was impeded by broken chunks of ceiling and walls blown off during hydrogen blasts.'

Very strange that a company the size of TEPCO didn't think of using robots following the disaster and that, rather than seeking help with robots, it had to wait until robots were offered to them.

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