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Robot Vacuum Sucks Up Radiation at Fukushima Plant

Workers are using an improvised robot vacuum cleaner to remove radioactive dirt inside the reactors

2 min read
fukushima irobot warrior vacuum cleaner

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

fukushima irobot warrior vacuum cleaner

After Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, U.S. firm iRobot sent four of its rugged, tank-like robots to help with recovery operations at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

It seems iRobot should have sent some Roomba vacuuming bots as well.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant's operator, said it was improvising a robotic vacuum cleaner to remove radioactive dirt from the reactors.

TEPCO built the system by taking an industrial-grade vacuum and attaching its business end to the manipulator arm of a Warrior, iRobot's strongest mobile robot. By remote controlling the bot from a safe distance, workers planned to clean up radioactive debris and sand, which collected on the floor when the tsunami flooded the plant.

Watch the Warrior entering Reactor No. 3 and doing some vacuuming:


In April, TEPCO sent two PackBot robots, also made by iRobot, into some of the reactors. The robots measured high levels of radiation and captured dramatic footage of the damaged facilities. The company has also relied on robotic drones and remote-controlled construction machines. But this is the first time TEPCO uses robots to assist with removal of radioactive debris inside the reactors.

The goal of the cleanup, TEPCO said, was to "reduce the radiation exposure" of workers, who might have to go near or into the reactors to perform repairs and other work. Did it work? I haven't seen any details, but will report back if I find out whether the work helped to reduce radiation levels.

See below details of the operation [click image to enlarge].

irobot fukushima robot vacuum cleaning reactors

Images and video: TEPCO

Updated July 8, 2011 10:07 a.m.

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
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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
DarkGray

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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