Over the past few weeks, Japan has unveiled robotic exoskeletons and quadrupeds designed to work in radioactive areas, and today Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has revealed its own inspection and maintenance robot. The MHI-MEISTeR (Maintenance Equipment Integrated System of Telecontrol Robot) has two arms which can be equipped with various tools to remove obstacles and collect samples in areas where people cannot go.
The MHI-MEISTeR's arms are designed to bend much like a human arm with seven degrees of freedom apiece, and each is capable of lifting up to 15 kg (33 pounds). Various tools can be easily attached at the business end of each arm – such as cutting saws, jack hammers, and drills – allowing it to cut pipes and handrails, or hold an object while it collects samples from it. The company says it has developed a special tool that can take samples from walls and concrete floors in contaminated areas with a depth up to 70 mm (approximately 2.5 inches).
The robot weighs 440 kg (970 pounds), stands 130 cm (4 feet, 3 inches), is 70 cm (2 feet, 3 inches) wide, and 125 cm (approx. 4 feet) long. It can move at up to 2 km/h (1.24 mph) and negotiates uneven terrain, including stair steps up to 22 cm (8.5 inches) on its four independently-moving tank tracks. The robot's actions are remotely operated, with an expected working time of two hours.
The MHI-MEISTeR is actually a combination of robots previously developed by MHI to help deal with nuclear accidents, since development began after an incident in 1999. At the time, MHI cooperated with the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute to build a dual-armed robot called Rabot which provided its upper body. The company later developed a mobile robot called MARS-D which serves as its mobile base. The company says it has improved the robot's remote maneuverability and has taken measures to prevent internal contamination of its parts.
MHI says that while it will deploy the robot at the TEPCO plant, it will also continue to develop its technology. Below, you can watch the MARS-D climbing some stairs in a video from the International Robot Exhibition 2011.