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.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.