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Toshiba (TYO: 6502) Unveils Nuclear Robot

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted November 26, 2012

Last Wednesday, Toshiba Corp. (TYO: 6502) showed off a robotic device designed to aid in nuclear disasters.

The robot, which has four legs and resists high levels of radiation, can climb over debris and scope out areas where humans cannot proceed due to radiation.

Its wireless network can adjust on the fly, hunting out better transmission options when high radiation causes reception troubles.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TYO: 9501) hopes the robot might be used very soon to examine the suppression chamber of the Fukushima nuclear facility and thus provide a better sense of the current situation.

However, the Seattle Times reports, even at Toshiba’s demonstration, the robot revealed a fair few shortcomings. It froze mid-action and needed a manual reboot, and it took nearly a minute to ascend a single step.

Although the actual robotics and algorithms are certainly cutting-edge, the flimsy demo raised questions as to how far it may be of genuine benefit in as severe a situation as Fukushima.

Japan faced heavy questioning after Fukushima as to why its sizable robotics industry couldn’t provide automated solutions in the recovery phase, but while robotics might look cool and appear to present limitless possibilities, their wirelessly-controlled networks cannot tolerate difficult environments. In an irradiated environment, most existing robots would simply fail.

The Toshiba robot, in contrast, can withstand a 100-millisievert environment for almost a year—enough to make radiation-induced cancer a statistical likelihood.

As of the last time TEPCO partially inspected the suppression chamber at Fukushima, radiation was around 360 millisieverts.