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Friday, December 7, 2012

New Toshiba Robot For Nuclear Reactor Sort Of Okay

Looking to rebound from the embarrassment of not having a robot capable of performing under the duress of the Fukushima-ken Dai-chi nuclear disaster, Japan's Toshiba Corporation has delivered a four-legged robot it says can withstand the rigors of high radiation to actually help in the advent of a nuclear disaster.

Bravo. (That was me being sarcastic).

File this under too little to late. Call it blind stupidity to actually believe it either had the tools to actually perform in a real emergency, or stupidity for not actually having created a robot that could do the job and instead wasting time on robots that can sing or act like a sex doll.... it's arrogance on the part of Japanese robot and robotics builders.

And now... here we are to save the day. That's paraphrasing Mighty Mouse, of course, which is actually what the robotics industry has become. A mighty mouse. Sad really.

Oh well... at least some company has tried to repair its shattered image.

If you would like to read more about Japan's embarrassment regarding its once proud robotics industry, check out the piece I wrote back in October: HERE.

So... the little robot that could has Toshiba thinking it can climb over debris and maneuver itself into such high-radiation areas that are still off-limit to human workers... and all be done via a wireless network that will actually seek out better transmission areas when the signal gets weak.

The only problem is that no one is exactly sure what the robot will do when and if it is allowed to actually enter Dai-ichi. Red tape, or something like that.

Now... just because it's a Toshiba robot, it doesn't mean it's perfect. (I don't know if I should be sarcastic or not. I personally have never had a problem with a Toshiba product.) But... during a demonstration of the robot to the media, the ever present Murphy and his laws showed.

The damn robot suffered an embarrassing malfunction, freezing during the simple act of walking with its leg up in the air like a dog taking a whizz (urinating). With a failure to relaunch, several people had to physically lift up the robot move it back down closer to the robot wrangler and then be rebooted.

I'm pretty sure a do-over will not be allowed within a nuclear furnace... I mean... it will be easy enough to get several people into the radioactive reactor to right the robot for a reboot... you just won't be able to get them out alive.

And... as if that wasn't enough to inspire perspire trust, when the robot tried to climb some stairs to show of its mobility, it did so at a rate of one step per minute. Geez... is the robot afraid of falling down the stairs and breaking a hip? It does have two, after all.

Within the damage reactor, there may be debris on the steps, so a straight path up or down could take it 10 minutes or more to devise a safe route over or around it. At least that is what Toshiba admitted.

And, unlike the famed Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, if the Toshiba mutant non-ninja should happen to turtle onto its back - it ain't getting up, if you will pardon the colloquialism.

And yet, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power COmpany) likes what the robot has to offer, stating that they are considering using the robot to inspect the suppression chamber of the plant. TEPCO is the same privately-owned company that own the rights to the Dai-chi facility and who allowed a few nuclear meltdowns to nearly occur at the plant following the earthquake-causing tsunami that crippled the facility back on March 11, 2011.

Yeah... I trust their judgement. It seems sound, right? (That, my friends, is some deep-felt sarcasm.)

Because no one has been able to enter the highly radioactive suppression chamber since the accident, TEPCO is anxious to see what is in there, with Toshiba senior manager Yanase Goro (surname first) stating that "We need this to go in and first check what is there."

Uh, hasn't TEPCO been able to use any of the other foreign built robots to do that? There certainly have been enough of them used prior to the invention of the non-nicknamed Toshiba robot I like to call Mister Freeze for it's ability to freeze its programming.

Here's a YOUTUBE video of the robot in action:

Oh well... Yanase says that his robot has a dosimeter to measure radiation and has six cameras mounted to it.

It can also stay in a 100 millisievert irradiated environment for about a year... or in higher radiated zones for shorter periods.... or longer if it freezes up again.

TEPCO says that the suppression chamber was last measured at 360 millisieverts.

Holy ice cubes, Batman! Shall we place our bets on Mister Freeze's survival?

Andrew Joseph

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