Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.
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].
Images and video: TEPCO
Updated July 8, 2011 10:07 a.m.