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Toshiba boffins build nuke-proof 'bot

Four-legged unit destined for Fukushima clean-up duties

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Boffins at Japanese electronics giant Toshiba have unveiled a new four-legged robotic invention designed to root around in areas too dangerous for humans, such as Tokyo Electric Power’s stricken Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant.

The 65kg machine stands at just over one metre tall and has capacity for carrying another 20kgs. It’s fitted with a dosimeter to measure exposure to radiation and a camera, so investigators can operate it remotely from a safe distance, Toshiba said.

Its jointed legs are operated by a ‘movement algorithm’ which enables the robot to walk on uneven surfaces, avoid obstacles and even climb stairs, although it can only do so at a sedentary 1km/h.

A second, smaller camera-mounted robot attached by a cable can be released from the mothership by a folding arm, and this wheeled bot is designed to look into nooks and crannies too small for its larger counterpart to enter.

Toshiba said it is still working on the designs with the end goal being to enable the bots to install radiation shields, stop water flow and remove obstacles as part of the decades-long clean up and dismantling project at the plant.

Tepco has until now used caterpillar-like bots such as Quince, but they typically have trouble negotiating obstacles, of which there are presumably many inside Fukushima No 1.

Although still at a relatively early stage in their development, robots are already being put to a range of uses in Japan, from making sushi, to passing Tokyo University’s entrance examinations.

It is in industrial manufacturing, however, where the bots are set to make the biggest impact, with Taiwanese ODM giant Foxconn apparently planning to have one million of the metallic critters on its production lines in China and beyond by 2014. ®

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