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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sakura The Robot

I'm unsure what is less surprising... that Japan has yet another robot built that will attempt to recapture some of the nationalistic pride lost during the Fukushima disaster - OR that the damn thing is called 'Sakura' (cherry).

Just the other day (HERE) I quipped about how Japan's streets have no name and that it was probably a good thing as every damn street would involve having the name 'sakura' in it. Gods... give me strength.

Regardless... there is a Sakura robot built by the Future Robotics Technology Center at the Chiba Institute of Technology.

As I also wrote recently (HERE), Japan lost some face after foreign-built robots led the way in work at the Fukushima reactor after Japanese robots (mostly) were found wanting.

In this case, Sakura was built specifically for the Dai-ichi nuclear it will enter and survey the basements of the damaged Fukushima reactor buildings.

According to the robot's builders: "Sakura's mission is to go into the underground levels of nuclear power plants. It's very compact, as it has to go down stairways just 70 centimeters wide and turn around on landings that are also 70 cm."

Sakura comes equipped with a video camera, microphone (what, in case it needs to call for Quince?) and radiation measuring devices. Quince, another Chiba Institute of Technology robot is also working at the electrical generation plant trying to repair damage caused by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Sakura will just be able to work deeper in to the stricken plant.

According to the TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company - who own the Dai-ichi facility), "Coolant water is leaking from somewhere inside the reactor, because no matter how water much is pumped in, the level doesn't stay above 60 cm. But unless that space can be filled with water, the melted-down fuel rods can't be removed safely. So, Sakura's first job is to find out where the cracks are."

If all goes according to plan (and why wouldn't - everything has worked out perfectly for TEPCO and Japan's robotic rescue industry) Sakura will use the camera to look for cracks, but as the camera can't see everywhere, Sakura also has a directional microphone to detect the sound of water. Ah. That makes more sense than my sarcastic comment earlier. It's a listening microphone - not a speaking one.

Because the stairway into the basement is quite steep, Sakura has better climbing performance than Quince and should be able to handle it.Apparently the area above ground slopes at 40 degrees, while the area below ground is 42 degrees. That additional two degrees is apparently difficult for a robot to handle. Let's not mention that the stairway slopes at an imposing 53 degrees.

To minimize the operator's exposure to radiation, Sakura has an automatic extension and retraction device for communication cables, and a plug-in charging system. Sakura is also made from specially selected materials, with the aim of making it maintenance-free for three years.

Sakura's makers say: "To make the robot radiation-hard, the previous model, Rosemary, has a 2mm aluminum plate on the bottom, but Sakura has a 5mm stainless steel plate. Radiation is expected to be high in the underground areas, so the bottom surface is designed to provide at least some shielding."

"We've only just got Sakura to move, so for the next month, we'll be testing its mobility and durability. Once that's done, we'll test its ability to carry the necessary equipment on a stairway. Then, we plan to fine-tune Sakura by testing it with TEPCO."

Hmmm... sounds like it has a long way to go before it will work properly. Sakura... sigh.

Andrew Joseph 

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