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This Robot Submarine Inspects the Worst Pools Ever

Reactor pools are where no humans want to go for a swim, so we're sending robots instead

2 min read
This Robot Submarine Inspects the Worst Pools Ever
Photo: GE Hitachi

I’ve been swimming in a lot of weird places. Some of them have even been a little dangerous. But I would never, ever, ever go swimming inside of the core of a nuclear reactor, operating or otherwise. Neither would anyone else in their right mind, but it is the job of human inspectors to go out on catwalks over reactor vessels and dip long poles with cameras attached into the water to inspect the vessel’s interior to make sure that nothing evil is leaking out.

This is not a particularly safe nor fun activity, but you know who doesn’t care about safety or funness? Robots.

imgPhoto: GE Hitachi

GE Hitachi’s robot submarine, Stinger, is designed to swim around reactor pools for up to three weeks during maintenance or refueling periods. It’s about the size of a human, and is remotely operated by one, but the places it goes to clean an inspect, no human could survive.

Stinger carries cameras and also a hydrolaser, which in addition to sounding awesome (although it’s really just a high pressure water nozzle), can be used to clean welds as it inspects them, which is a Very Good and Important thing. The robot is clad in a “tungsten frock,” designed to reduce the amount of radiation that it is exposed to. Tungsten is more dense than lead (it’s just about as dense as gold), and was probably chosen because a frock made of platinum, while more effective, would make Singer both lovely looking and entirely unaffordable.

This is all fantastic, but it’s left me seriously concerned about spontaneous self-awareness followed by world domination. Seriously, what would happen if Stinger was going for a swim and this happened:

According to every superhero movie ever, this is how something either amazing or horrific happens, and I don’t think robots would be immune to either one. 

The video, by the way, is of a reactor pulse, which happens when control rods are rapidly removed from the nuclear core, which goes from idle (about 100 watts of output for the reactor in the video) to nearly a billion watts of output (!) and back down to idle again in something like 50 milliseconds. The bright blue flash is Cherenkov radiation, with charged particles from the reaction moving through the water faster than the speed of light (in water), exciting water molecules to emit a wave of blue photons. 

GE Hitachi says that Stinger is happily puttering around reactor pools performing inspections throughout the U.S. nuclear industry, and there was much rejoicing from all of the humans who don’t have to do that anymore.

[ Stinger ] via [ Engadget ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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