Sending robots in to a still smoldering nuclear power plant for damage assessment is a great idea. It's what they were built for, however when it comes to repairing the damage and cleaning up the aftermath will fall to humans. I find it incredibly amazing that the elderly in that region have volunteered to go in on what can only be termed as a 'suicide missions' to repair the ailing reactors.
TJ, that's an intriguing idea. But the rad-hard ability is a big, big factor, due to extremely high radiation levels inside the damaged plant. Quad copters, at least presently, aren't very rugged compared to UGVs, which already have a lot of generations of development behind them in the military.
Lou, I agree. Then reasons appear to be that, until this disaster Japan's robot development hadn't been aimed at this type of device, but in other directions, such as towards the consumer sector and humanoid forms.
Always in disaster do we see innovation and development. Some could argue that no one could envision the need for such a bot before the disaster, not it is an industry. Take a look at what came from World War II, More innovation than I have time today to write.
Despite how technologically advance the Japanese are, or were, perhaps they are looking elsewhere for inspiration and new ideas.
Additionally, I wonder if they're thinking too conventionally. A quad-copter is a self-stabilizing platform with cameras, one that can move around precisely without having to deal with stairs. It's off-the-shelf hardware that is quite inexpensive. It's not radiation-hardened, but they can purchase an awful lot of them and get quick inspection results.
California State University, Chico was the first school in California to offer an ABET-accredited degree program in mechatronic engineering. Now its California Mechatronics Center works with industry on machinery, robotics, and surveillance vehicles.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.