Japan Earthquake: iRobot Sending Packbots and Warriors to Fukushima Dai-1 Nuclear Plant

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of our ongoing news coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency


iRobot Warrior 710s getting prepared for deployment to Japan.

The Special Ops group of Japan's Self Defense Forces has asked iRobot for some robotic assistance with the situation at the Fukushima Dai-1 nuclear plant, where several reactors are dangerously unstable after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami led to failures of their cooling systems last week.

Four robots, including iRobot's Packbot 510 and Warrior 710, left Bedford, Mass., this morning on their way to Japan, along with a team of iRobot employees to provide support, an iRobot spokesperson told me.

The iRobot team will be training Japanese defense personnel, who will control the robots remotely, from a protected vehicle, and iRobot employees will not be getting close to the reactors themselves.

These robots may be able assist at Fukushima Dai-1 in several different ways. The Packbot 510s are equipped with HazMat payloads [photo below], which can detect temperature, gamma radiation, explosive gases and vapors, and toxic chemicals, and feed all of that data back to their controllers in real-time.

The Warrior 710 [photo below] is much larger and stronger than the Packbots, able to carry payloads of up to 68 kilograms (150 pounds), while lifting over 90 kg (200 lbs) with their arms.

According to the iRobot spokesperson, the Warriors may be used as robotic "firefighters," pulling hoses into hot zones inside the nuclear plant to help direct the flow of cooling water. Whether the robots will actually carry out that mission is unclear at this point.

Both of these robots are equipped with cameras that stream live video back to their operators, who steer them using game-style controllers. The bots have a wireless range of over 600 meters (about 2,000 feet), are capable of negotiating rubble and climbing stairs, can handle being dropped 1.8 m (6 ft) onto concrete, and will continue to function even after being completely submerged in water. The Warrior 710 is even able to carry Packbots on its back, and deploy them into structures through windows.

Details are still a bit scarce on what the timeline for iRobot is here; we just know that they've packed up their robots and are on their way with plans to help. We'll be bringing you updates as they're available.

Images: iRobot

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