Toshiba has unveiled a four-legged inspection robot, which will carry out work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where people cannot go. The newly developed robot – simply called a Quadruped walking robot – comes equipped with a smaller wheeled robot that can be deployed to navigate hard-to-reach areas. The legged robot can negotiate stairs, uneven terrain, and is able to avoid low-lying obstacles.
The TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was severely damaged in the tsunami that occurred immediately following the the earthquake of March 11, 2011. Parts of the plant have been decommissioned but still contain unspent nuclear fuel which gives off lethal radiation, so robots are being used to check things out. The robots are equipped with cameras and radiation dosimeters.
The larger of the two robots weighs 143 pounds (65 kg) and stands 3 feet, 5 inches (106 cm) tall. It can operate for up to two hours on its battery, and has a walking speed of 1 km/h (0.6 mph). The smaller inspection robot weighs 4.4 pounds (2 kg), and has a battery life of about one hour. Both robots will be operated over a wireless network.
Clearly this quadruped isn't quite as advanced as Boston Dynamics' LS3, but it doesn't need to be because it won't have to tackle the great outdoors. Toshiba says it will continue to improve the robots by adding radiation shielding, water-proofing, and more advanced control behaviors for dealing with other kinds of situations. The prototype can be seen in action in a recent press demonstration.
In less radioactive areas, humans may soon enter wearing robotic exoskeletons.