A Japanese robotics lab has developed a new emergency response prototype called Rosemary that will soon be put to work at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northern Japan.
The robot is about the size of a lawn mower and has four extended treaded feet that swivel up and down to help it climb over obstacles. It can ascend at angles over 60 degrees and can carry instruments and other payload weighing up to 60 kilograms.
"We tested the robot's various electronic components using an exposure test," said Takeshi Nishimura, a researcher at the Future Robotics Technology Center. "It can be used without any additional shielding or protection."
The robot will be sent to Fukushima in the next few months, he added. It is the successor to a robot from the centre that was originally developed for disasters in subways, but was put to use at the nuclear plant.
The Future Robotics Technology Center is giving demonstrations of the robot along with several other projects at its new campus in the complex at the base of the newly opened Tokyo Skytree broadcasting tower in Tokyo. The centre is affiliated with the Chiba Institute of Technology and is a recipient of government funding for robot development.
In Japan, where cutting-edge robots are a point of national pride and receive huge development grants from the government, there was dismay when foreign PackBots from US maker iRobot were among the first to explore the damaged nuclear facility after it was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami last year. Japanese researchers have responded with an armada of projects to develop robots for use there and in the high-radiation zones nearby.
The center is also showing a table that responds to and projects images on to punch cards laid on its surface, as well as a Mars explorer simulator.