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US To Send Radiation-Hardened Robots To Japan 183

Posted by samzenpus
from the nuke-resistant dept.
CWmike writes "The United States is sending specialized robots to Japan to help officials there get control of the Fukushima nuclear power plants damaged in this month's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Dr. Peter Lyons, an acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy with the DoE, said the robots, which could be sent into areas that would be dangerous for humans to enter because of high radiation levels, could begin to give officials readings on the environment inside the nuclear power plants. Lyons told the US Senate on Tuesday, 'We are moving expeditiously to ship not only the robots but also operators who perhaps will be used to train Japanese operators. We don't know yet how close the operators will need to be to the site.' Asked about getting information about the state of the damaged reactors, Lyons said the robots could provide some information. 'Certainly not all we need, but some,' he said."
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US To Send Radiation-Hardened Robots To Japan

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  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @04:06PM (#35670518) Homepage
    How about that. The US is sending robots to Japan. For our next trick, we will sell coal to Newcastle.
    • And some time from now, they will begin selling their own robots to America, only with better efficiency and higher standards.
      Yes, I made a Detroit joke.

      What? It's not like there's anyone left there to feel bad!
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      But US robots can do more than just dance, they can sing badly, too !

      Just the thing for the next big craze from the Land of the Rising Fun - Roboioke!

    • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @04:32PM (#35670848)

      These are radiation hardened industrial robots. Not grandma diaper changing, go playing, receptionist robots.

      The iRobot 710 Warrior [irobot.com] isn't interested in managing your manga collection or cooking you ramen noodles.

      iRobot also sent a 510 packbot. [irobot.com] In fact, the 710 can carry 510 packbots on its back and deploy they through openings (windows, holes, etc). A little Skynety, but fun.

      • It also comes when a HEMI and runs on diesel because our robots are build for the working man, who need to do work.

        Ya, its radiation hardened, hard like the folks they buy them, and it doesn't have time to namby pamby about.

        Available now at the robotics division of the good folks at Ford...

    • by spopepro (1302967)
      When I was doing some stuff at Lawrence Livermore Labs in the mid 1990s there was a very active group working on radiation and harsh environment resistant robots. They were boring, but highly functional, which is why no one paid any attention from the outside. While I haven't kept up on their work, I am confident that there are few labs in the world that have robots for this job better and more advanced than the DOE devices. They do, of course, have to plan for not only power reactor problems but also ou
    • Osmau Tezuka would be rolling over in his grave if he heard this.....

    • Been there, done that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Dexter [wikipedia.org]

    • by Laser Dan (707106)

      I work in robotics research in Japan. The popular research topics are completely opposite to the US.

      In the US, if you want funding you use keywords like:
      terrorist, warfighter, IED, surveillance, combat

      In Japan you use keywords like:
      elderly, assistance, safety, entertainment

      So we need radiation hardened US robots. After the mess in Fukushima though, I propose to develop a robot to entertain radioactive elderly people while assisting them to drive safely.

    • Since it's not likely that we have robotics-related technology that the Japanese don't already have, this is an obvious prelude to the Robot Rebellion that all those science fiction stories warned us about! ;)
  • Why wasn't this done sooner? And while I'm asking, how come we didn't fly in power generators to keep the pumps running before things started to melt?

    Oh wait, that would cost money, and the people with the money can just move. Didn't Marx write something about that? Oh well, all anybody can remember about him is that some dictator or another used his books for rhetoric + free advertising.
    • by smelch (1988698)
      What the fuck is wrong with you? What on Earth does this have to do with money? I'm pretty sure nobody gives a shit about the money of sending robots over, unless you think they were just built now, in which case your "why not sooner" has an answer. Otherwise, it was probably because they didn't think they had a need for them. As a situation evolves, so do the potential solutions. But that doesn't back up your anti-capitalism.
    • I bet it had a lot less to do with class economics and much more to do with "trusting the Japanese to have a handle on things."
      Remember, we did send them something [google.com] on the day-of, according to Sec. Clinton... who knows what it was, though.
      • by bolthole (122186)

        It wasnt so much us trusting them. as them being willing to accept help.

        They weren't willing to accept help, from what I read.
        Now they have have majorly crippled their own country, out of pride.

    • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @04:19PM (#35670672)

      Other American robots were already sent, or it was at least reported, a week ago.

      http://articles.cnn.com/2011-03-23/tech/robots.japan.relief_1_packbot-irobot-ground-zero?_s=PM:TECH [cnn.com]

      The reason why this or that wasn't done sooner is because the Japanese didn't ask for it, and despite what you may think about American foreign policy, the US isn't just going to muscle into an internal Japanese matter and tell a Japanese utility company what to do.

      Just flying power generators in wouldn't help once they ran out of fuel, thats part of the problem at Fukushima, the backup generators ran out of fuel.

      • by Marillion (33728)
        My understanding, which could be quite flawed, is they had Diesel generators which failed to start due to the tsunami floodwaters flooding them out and then the battery backup failed once the charge depleted.
    • Why wasn't this done sooner?

      Because in the real world, things take time. I'm sure as soon as this happened balls were rolling and it has just now got to a point where the news is bothering to talk about it

      And while I'm asking, how come we didn't fly in power generators to keep the pumps running before things started to melt?

      If that's all it took, I'm sure we would have. Hell, they could have just flown them in from someplace in Japan. For that matter they did but their wasn't a way to patch them into the sy

      • I hate to be a jerk, but citation? Seriously, I mean that. The stories I've read all say it wasn't a failure of pumps, it was the generators going offline when the water hit them. I don't remember reading anything about the pumps being smashed, but it could have happened. Otherwise, I still see TEPCO sitting on their hands hoping for the best and finding out too late it wasn't going to happen like that.

        As for the logistics, well, they're just logistics. And it took days for things to get really, really o
        • You can blame TEPCO in that they didn't upgrade the seawalls before. Maybe, you can blame them for protecting the diesel storage tanks with only firewalls, not with walls big enough to protect the fuel tanks against tsunami. They failed at prevention, not at their response at current events. After all, units 5 and 6 will be online in a few months if politics don't get in the way.

          But many heads need to roll inside TEPCO because you have proof in the very damaged site and in Onagawa NPS and Fukushima Daini th

    • by tonywong (96839)
      Because the management of the power utility consistently underestimated the crisis and didn't want to 'needlessly' alarm people.

      Crisis management is the opposite of normal management and these guys don't understand that. Well, maybe not until now.
    • The generators have been on site for quite a while now, long enough for them to have run out of fuel a couple times. I think you underestimate the enormity of the problems encountered. The Generators are on semi-trailers, three to a generator set, they don't fit into a normal cargo plane, you need something like a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy [wikipedia.org] or a Antonov An-124 [wikipedia.org] to do it, otherwise you have to ship them via cargo ship. If the Generators aren't sitting on the dock in Alaska, they take forever to get there. The gener

      • Then you get a darned Lockheed C-5 if that's what it takes. In a crisis like this you expend any amount of resources necessary to contain it. You just described in your post how it all could have been done. All that was lacking was the will power to spend the money to pay everyone. Christ, if you have to you fly in fuel continuously.

        If all else really fails, you call in the US Army. And if you have to you PAY for them when it's all over. It could have been done. It would have been a nightmare of logisti
        • by MachDelta (704883)

          One problem with GP's plan: Where do you land a Galaxy? Big planes need big runways. So you'd still have to tow the things across whatever ruins still count as a highway system.

          I think Fukushima is going to go down as one of those "perfect storm" type disasters where so much went wrong so quickly that no one had ever considered it could ever happen.

          • Well that's the whole point, the Japanese were running a race of a hundred heats and losing every one in a photo-finish, it's a testament to their fortitude that they hadn't given up in frustration along the way; and it's amazing that things aren't worse than they are.

    • Why wasn't this done sooner? And while I'm asking, how come we didn't fly in power generators to keep the pumps running before things started to melt

      Because the generators needed to run those pumps are of a size that can't be sent by any helicopter in existence.

  • Sounds about like shipping ice to Antarctica. Surely all their robotics R&D didn't go to violin playing, grandma bathing, ramen making, Godzilla fighting bots? Am I missing something?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, you are missing the 'radiation hardened' part, numbnuts.

    • I am a bit surprised that Japan didn't have a more robust robotic response handy(yes, delicate digital circuitry does not mix well with radiation; but RF-controlled large scale model vehicles can be had in fairly large sizes with fairly primitive analog, and thus comparatively rad-hard, controllers), I assume that the general mayhem of earthquake and tsunami had something to do with it.

      On the other hand, though, it isn't a complete surprise that the US might have more radiation-specific robots: Since the
      • by gad_zuki! (70830)

        I think it has to do more with the war on terror. A lot of these iRobot bots are seeing service as IED disarming and cleaning paths. I'm not surprised to learn the US has radiation hardened ones too as disarming a dirty bomb probably will become a necessity some day.

        • I'm sure that that is the current buzzword for getting projects funded, and the item ticked on the brochure for these various devices(and I suspect that the majority of the iRobot chassis are being sold to bomb squad types with the occasional dose of hazmat) ; but the R&D for autonomy and radiation hardness definitely precedes 2001 by a fairly large margin. The "robots that can operate over rubble by means other than just making their treads bigger" thing, though seems to be more recent.
    • Ah ha! I knew something was fishy about this story... Taisei set to introduce robots for N-cleanup [yomiuri.co.jp]. I knew my faith in Japanese robotics wasn't misplaced. This is just a PR stunt by a iRobot.
      • From parent's link:

        These machines and control systems, using wireless local area networks and global positioning systems, were developed by the Unmanned Construction System Association in Tokyo, a consortium of 15 construction and related companies.

        As such unmanned machines can be used in places too dangerous for workers, they have been used at more than 100 sites including restoration work at the Mt. Fugen volcano in Nagasaki Prefecture, which erupted with large pyroclastic flows in 1991, and Hokkaido's Mt. Usu, where a volcanic eruption occurred in 2000.

  • France, Germany, and the US are all sending over rugged robots designed to work in disaster areas, collapsed building sites, and war zones. Strangely, Japan doesn't seem to have those.

    I'm amazed that TEPCO hadn't at least brought in a few hobby-type R/C quadrotors or helicopters with TV cameras to get a look at areas they couldn't reach, like the spent fuel pools. For days, they didn't even know the water levels in those pools. Attempts were made to peer through holes in the roof with high-altitude flyo

    • by rubycodez (864176) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @04:30PM (#35670830)
      They key here is "radiation hardened", the robots and cameras will both be so, they are from Idaho National Laboratory, the nation's Nuclear R&D facility. Your PC or typical hobby type remote controlled gear would go ape-shit in a high rad environment from charged particles being created in the silicon.

      The problems with TEPCO and the current crisis will continue with or without the former CEO, as they have for decades
      • by hedwards (940851)

        That makes sense, I was trying to figure out what aspect of them was in need of hardening.

        • Gus: Banging... yuck! It amazes me that although I'm a robot, I am infinitely more evolved and refined than you are. I would never bang someone.

          Chode: Yeah, because you can't! You can't afford the banging attachment!

          Gus: [ Sighs ]
    • by jrumney (197329)
      The French robots were ready to ship over 2 weeks ago, but were told that they would not be allowed to enter Japan without an official request from the government. That request came on Monday this week. The Japanese need to ask some serious questions of TEPCO, their government and their culture of bureaucracy relating to the handling of this disaster. Unfortunately, they will probably just lap up the face saving excuses, say "sho ga nai", and continue their lives as they were.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why, yes, Billy, not only will we fly our cars to the moon for lunch, but we will have robots. Radiation-fighting American robots!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Latest news is that things are progressively becoming worse. Radiation OUTSIDE the evac zone is now exceeding the safe limits in some towns.

    People in towns outside the evac region are being told to prepare to leave if conditions worsen.

    This disaster appears to unfold like many others, with repeated assurances that things are OK and will be contained at this point, followed by failure and progressively worse conditions.

    Radioactivity in the seawater outside the Fukushima plant continues to increase, and is n

    • by mldi (1598123)
      Damnit! For the last time, people, stop throwing bananas into the seawater!
    • by khallow (566160)

      This disaster appears to unfold like many others, with repeated assurances that things are OK and will be contained at this point, followed by things getting better.

      FIFY. I notice also how your language is vague, in terms of "worst levels" rather than a concrete measure. Seawater is considered to be radioactive here because they just dumped a bunch of it on melting cores and some of it came back out.

      Tepco is accused of covering up the worst problems.

      It fits the Narrative. Of course, they're accused. But there's a big gap between being accused of something and actually committing the deed.

    • This disaster appears to unfold like many others, with repeated assurances that things are OK and will be contained at this point, followed by failure and progressively worse conditions.

      Yes, you are correct. When we look back on *DISASTERS*. Often they appear to be ok and then failures lead to worsening conditions.

      There's not reason to suggest that there is a cover up going on. The radiation levels were much lower before. The fact that things are getting worse only proves that attempts to end the crisis haven't been successful.

  • by jd2112 (1535857) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @04:30PM (#35670816)
    Sounds like the plot of an Anime movie...
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Sounds like the plot of an Anime movie...

      Sigh. If only Godzilla were real he could pop up right now, waggle a clawed finger at the Japanese, as if to say "See what you get playing around recklessly with the atom?", pick up the reactors and take them to the Moon (unless you're one of those fans who see Flying Godzilla as the greatest sin perpetrated by Toho.)

    • by fahlesr1 (1910982)

      My father works in the nuclear power industry. Back when I very young, I was still in elementary school because this took place before 9/11, the power plant my dad worked at had a "bring your son to work" day. I got to drive a robot around the power plant, that was really neat. They used them to work in hot rooms all the time, some tasks are easier to use a robot since there aren't any regulations on how long a robot can stay in a hot room.

      The nuclear industry loves robots. These will probably help with the

      • Actually, no, the gear does not exist to keep people safe. Gamma rays go through anything but lots of lead, and there's a limit how heavy you can make a suit before it is unusable. The gear you see all the responders wearing does not protect against gamma at all.

  • I heard France was even sending robots, the only question is are they to help aid or fight the malfunctioning Japanese robots?
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      I heard France was even sending robots, the only question is are they to help aid or fight the malfunctioning Japanese robots?

      I'm impressed France is that forward thinking and Japan is that unprepared. Not quite the image we expected, was it?

      Japan would be full of clever robots which could do almost everything and France wouldn't have any because the robotic robot assemblers trade union is on strike.

      So it turns out Japan has been trying to perfect a bunch of utterly useless, but highly marketable robots to beep, boop, dance and look cute, which France have been making industrial duty do-the-dirty-work jobs.

  • by egamma (572162) <egamma@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @04:35PM (#35670878)
    Domo Arigato, Mr. hardened-against-radiation Roboto!
  • Even Godzilla is a little nervous around that one.
  • by TopSpin (753) on Wednesday March 30, 2011 @05:00PM (#35671146) Journal

    Yay for urgency. Fresh water is finally being hauled in by the US navy as well ... about two weeks after they ran out of coolant inventory.

    Will there be a reckoning for this foot dragging? No one responsible for Fukushima has acted with anything like the urgency we should expect of companies and governments that operate these reactors.

    Hardened robots mean we may soon learn how much spent fuel got lofted by the fires. Brace yourself; every power reactor incident in history has surprised the engineers when they finally got eyeballs on the problem. Credible and well meaning people denied major core melt at TMI-2 for six years until the first camera was lowered into the RPV.

    TEPCO officially announced they're scrapping reactors 1 through 4. This is a formality really; recovering those reactors is not feasible. The important thing to notice is that this omits 5 and 6. Those reactors will be put on-line again, just like TMI-1 and Chernobyl 1, 2, and 3. They know, however, that it is much too early to float that balloon.

    I am a nuclear advocate. I just don't defend incompetence, poor judgment or neglect. There just isn't any room for it if you're going to burn matter and expect the trust of the people that grant you the liberty.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Will there be a reckoning for this foot dragging? No one responsible for Fukushima has acted with anything like the urgency we should expect of companies and governments that operate these reactors.

      What foot dragging? All backup power aside from batteries got knocked out. They had to do a hell of a lot just to restore cooling to six reactors and their fuel ponds. Also nuclear rods which come out of the reactor don't instantly cool off. The radioactive heating is going down over time, but it takes a little while. That's tough to deliver when your infrastructure outside of the plant has been wiped out. While it looked hairy for a while, things have been getting better since March 24.

      TEPCO officially announced they're scrapping reactors 1 through 4. This is a formality really; recovering those reactors is not feasible. The important thing to notice is that this omits 5 and 6. Those reactors will be put on-line again, just like TMI-1 and Chernobyl 1, 2, and 3. They know, however, that it is much too early to float that balloon.

      Why not keep reactor

  • I helped a tiny bit with the WorkHorse version a quarter century ago as a volunteer hanging out in his lab back then:
        http://www.new.ans.org/pubs/magazines/download/a_671 [ans.org]

  • So, the rad-hardened robots will have a gap in their rad-hardening, and will slightly mutate. Then, they will start feeding from the radiation sources, and keep mutating. Three months from now, we will find a spontaneously-generated Mazinger. Which will be quite handy, FWIW, as lizards have already started mutating into little Godzillas by now.

    It had to happen in Japan. They don't have animators - They have prophets.

  • Not particularly surprising when you consider that Japanese robot manufacturers have generally focused on manufacturing, healthcare or the consumer sector. And they produce legions of relatively worthless robots. I'm not sure why they haven't quite linked their prowess to more practical applications. At least they make them prettier than the robots Americans produce.

  • I'll racking my brain trying to figure out how to insert a quip about sharks and lasers, but I'm drawing a blank. Ah well.

  • To me, robots have to be at least semi-autonomous. These are really just really advanced remote controlled cars. Am I wrong?

  • Where are the Gundans, Valkyries, Patlabors, Wantzers and EVAs?

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