Skip to main content

Where Are the Robots?

439x Although I wish it weren’t so, Fukushima Daiichi has proven to be a real test case for various kinds of automated and remote control equipment to help with various activities. We’ve looked at some drone planes sent over by France and the United States, so it’s time for some large motorized wheeled things:

The machinery consisted of an excavator and transporter, each equipped with a remote control system. Cameras were mounted on each piece of equipment and TEPCO set an additional six cameras around areas where work would take place.

The entire operation was managed from a mobile control room where staff could watch video from the cameras and manipulate the machinery, said Hiro Hasegawa, a spokesman for the electric utility.

That makes the effort seem a bit jury rigged, but no: they’re built for this purpose:

The remotely controlled machinery was originally developed for use in hazardous construction environments, such as those near volcanoes or where landslides could occur, said a spokesman for Yoshikawa Co., which worked on the system.

I looked over at Yoshikawa, but it’s an all-Japanese site. Even clicking around, I couldn’t tell you a thing about them, except that they have an initiative called EcoProject. And make remote controlled large wheeled things.

---

Robot-violin Drones, excavators, transporters – everything but robots. This is Japan – where are the robots?

Yet in reality, robots capable of responding to nuclear accidents are thin on the ground in Japan – a reflection, experts say, of both the limits of current robotics technology and of power-plant operators’ reluctance to invest in improving it.

Balancing those two things are a bit hard, as TEPCO and other nuclear energy concerns in Japan would need to invest in them and have not done so. If they had, then the “limits of current robotics technology” would fall, at least in this narrow instance. Given Japan’s interest in robotics, not wanting them for specific types of events may be cultural – I mean, within the industry there.

One Japanese researcher says that before the Fukushima crisis, utilities had feared putting robots in their plants would send a “bad message” about safety. “Tepco’s argument was that their plants were totally safe, so an accident was impossible and robots were unnecessary,” he says. “They thought that if they deployed robots, it was the same as saying the plants weren’t safe. It was totally unscientific reasoning.”

forbidden-planet-robby That sounds muddled to me – I doubt the public would pay attention to the robots until they were needed and when they were needed, the appearance of safety would not be an issue. But I’ll assume our unnamed researcher knows about his own people and let it stand.

And on the issue of robotic technology:

Lem Fugitt, editor of Robots Dreams, a blog about robotics in Japan, says high-profile skill demonstrations and movies have misled people about robots’ true capabilities. “The reliability and durability of today’s robotics just isn’t high enough yet to tackle chaotic and extremely dangerous conditions like the interior of the Fukushima plants,” he says.

“Robotics perform extremely well under reasonably controlled conditions, but could easily make the situation even worse in situations like Fukushima,” he says.

helmetropolis If that’s true, then TEPCO has it exactly right not to invest in something that will not be helpful.

---

On the other hand, the drones and heavy machinery appear to have been quite helpful. As far as I know, they are all loaned items rather than owned by TEPCO. Maybe some investment is such work is called for once everything has calmed down.

If anything, Toyota’s violin playing robot tries to avoid the too-human appearance of the robot in Metropolis (1926) while not looking overly mechanical like Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956). But people who see it play – here for example – find it a bit disquieting, because the dexterity needed to handle a violin and bow seems something reserved for human beings. Perhaps, like Robbie, it could compensate with a winning personality.

Until scientists figure out the mystery of robotics, they will be more like the excavator and transporter – not remotely human and tightly controlled by their handlers.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…

Innovation Fuels the Nuclear Legacy: Southern Nuclear Employees Share Their Stories

Blake Bolt and Sharimar Colon are excited about nuclear energy. Each works at Southern Nuclear Co. and sees firsthand how their ingenuity powers the nation’s largest supply of clean energy. For Powered by Our People, they shared their stories of advocacy, innovation in the workplace and efforts to promote efficiency. Their passion for nuclear energy casts a bright future for the industry.

Blake Bolt has worked in the nuclear industry for six years and is currently the work week manager at Hatch Nuclear Plant in Georgia. He takes pride in an industry he might one day pass on to his children.

What is your job and why do you enjoy doing it?
As a Work Week Manager at Plant Hatch, my primary responsibility is to ensure nuclear safety and manage the risk associated with work by planning, scheduling, preparing and executing work to maximize the availability and reliability of station equipment and systems. I love my job because it enables me to work directly with every department on the plant…