There’s still a huge amount of radioactive waste cleanup to do at
the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Some of that cleanup can
be done by careful humans, but there’s some that’s still too dangerous
that can only be done by robots. Clearing the fuel rods out of the
pool in reactor 3 is one of those tasks, and now Toshiba has built a
hulking amphibious robot to tackle it.
Even though it’s been half a decade since the Fukushima disaster,
robots haven’t been able to make as much of an impact like you think
they would of. There’s still what seems to be a scramble to build and
deploy these expensive, complex, and entirely bespoke robotic
systems to solve very specific problems in very specific situations. As
a reaction to a disaster, this is understandable, but long term, it’s not a
very effective or efficient approach. In some cases, a bespoke robot
may be the only option, and defueling a busted reactor core might be one of those.
The plan is to have the amphibious bot installed at some
point this year, with removal of 566 fuel rod assemblies to
begin in 2018. Once workers have mastered the intricacies of
the remote control system, of course.
From the looks of things, there are a bunch of monocular
displays, along with a bulky pendant-thing with a couple two-axes joysticks and some toggle switches for changing joint
controls. You could probably run over it and it would still work,
but it doesn’t score very highly on the “ease-of-use” meter.
FLY ME TO THE STORE
Hats off to Ehang for grabbing the drone spotlight
at CES 2016. The Chinese drone maker introduced its
autonomous human-carrying drone called “184” in
Vegas that can carry up to 220 lb.
Ehang says it’s designed to carry one human
passenger, and that it’s working closely with
government agencies on the drone’s use.
The 184 (one passenger, eight propellers, four
arms) is an electric powered machine that can be fully
charged in two hours and fly for 23 minutes with a
top speed of 63 MPH. The cabin has air conditioning
and a reading light.
According to Ehang, the184 has all sorts of built-in failsafes, including multiple power backups, auto-landing in case of trouble, and an On-Star-like
command center for fliers who need help.
After setting a flight plan, passengers only need to
give two commands: “Take off” and “Land.” This is
done with a single click on a tablet, the company
Shang Hsiao, Ehang’s co-founder and chief financial
officer, told The Guardian his company hopes to sell
the device for $200,000-$300,000 this year but
acknowledged it occupied a legal gray area. “The
whole world never had something like this before.”
18 SERVO 03.2016
Images: Kyodo News.