Toshiba nuclear robot can't make it through demo

Tetrapod could inspect the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and release a smaller camera robot. If it doesn't freeze.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read

Japan is again trying to field some more robots to work at the heavily damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, but this walker from Toshiba froze during a press demo.

Tetrapod is a quadruped designed to withstand high levels of radiation, but it couldn't seem to take the glare of cameras.

The wireless remote-controlled machine recalls Boston Dynamics' BigDog robots, with legs than can tackle uneven terrain. It can carry up to 44 pounds of equipment and has an onboard camera and dosimeter.

It's designed to survey the plant's highly radioactive buildings and debris, and can apparently withstand a 100 millisievert environment for a year.

As seen in the vid below, it has a folding arm that can deploy a second, smaller robot with a camera to image tight spots and key equipment.

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But while at the press event, Tetrapod took up to a minute to climb steps. While trying to balance itself, it froze with one leg in the air. Technicians had to haul it off and reboot it.

Toshiba said the machine could take up to 10 minutes to figure out how to negotiate unexpected objects in its path, according to AP.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power has said it might use the machine to explore the suppression chamber, where radiation has been recorded at 360 millisieverts, but when that might happen is unclear. The plant is to be decommissioned and dismantled in a cleanup job expected to take decades.

The demo snafu is the latest embarrassment for Japanese robotics. Despite the country's prowess in humanoid robots and automation, it had to ask U.S. robotics firms such as iRobot to send robots to help survey the nuclear plant.

Sure, we'd all like to see Asimo tearing through that plant and making it safer, but the radiation would knock it out. Where's Astro Boy when you need him?