The Sakura is "very compact, as it has to go down stairways just 70cm wide and turn around on landings that are also 70cm," Eiji Koyanagi fuRO's vice director, told DigiInfo TV at Japan Robot Week last month (watch the video below). "Coolant water is leaking from somewhere inside the reactor, because no matter how much water is pumped in, the level doesn't stay above 60cm. But unless that space can be filled with water, the melted-down fuel rods can't be removed safely, so Sakura's first job is to find out where the cracks are."
Its developers say the robot is especially adept at negotiating stairs and ramps, including changes in slope. "The part [of the buildings] above ground slopes at 40 degrees, and that below ground at 42 degrees," Koyanagi said. "This difference of just two degrees is very hard for a robot to handle. What's more, Sakura has to climb down and then climb up to the top of the suppression pool. That stairway slopes at 53 degrees."
He said fuRO expects to test the robot's mobility and durability in the next month or so. "Once that's done, we'll test its ability to carry the necessary equipment on a stairway. Then we plan to fine-tune Sakura by testing it with TEPCO."
I should add that rad-hard design techniques and materials research are also a long-term subject of R&D by NASA for space applications, as well as DARPA's military apps and, presumably, various researchers for the nuclear energy industry.
Of course there has been research and development of Rad-hard materials and components, but it seems like it is not quite an ongoing process. But it may just be a topic that gets really poor coverage in the media. After all, people may start to ask as to exactly WHY do we need to develop such materials. And if the media start asking questions there may be quite a fuss made.
But my point is that different materials that may be quite desireable fr a design may not have any information available about their suitability for service in a radioactive environment. Radiation effects on one polymer may not be an adequate indication of how a different polymer would be affected.
William, rad-hard design techniques and materials research have been around a long time in the US military, including for electronic components, and much of it is usable in robotics design. Regarding this robot and how much of the technology and design it uses is new, the main thing seems to be handling those slopes and slope changes.
Elizabeth. Right you are. Wherever it is difficult or dangerous for people, our robots can step in. They are exploring Mars, the depths of the ocean even (gasp) the dust bunnies under the couch. All kidding aside, let's hope that search and rescue bots are not far behind.
I agree with you and the others, Ann, that it's great to see this kind of work being done. This is exactly the point of creating robots that can go places or perform tasks that are dangerous for humans. It's nice to see it being put to use in a real-world example, as a lot of this stuff is still in the concept phase.
I am inclined to agree that the robot in the picture does look a bit like an older tank model. I am much more wondering why it has taken so very long to come up with such a creation. It does not look like there is an "breakthrough" design features, nor any wonderful new concepts. Of course the assurance of all of the materials being able to survive the possibly intense radiation may have taken some time.
Do we know what effects radiation has on components such as rechargeable batteries? That may be a potential show stopper, since the alternative is to have the robot pay out a cable as it travels, and then some how recover the cable as it returns. That sort of feature would add weight and possibly reduce maneuverability, but it could extend mission times a whole lot. So robot power does become a show-changer, but not a show-stopping issue.
OF course, it may have taken that long to come up with the neat names.
TJ, don't you just love those names? Lots of people have wondered if they're on purpose. I had the same question about the use of existing rad-hard technology for space and military apps back when I heard about the first people and robots going into the plant post-disaster. One would think they're taking advantage of those!