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Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012

Upgraded Quince robots ready for second foray


Staff writer

NARASHINO, Chiba Pref. — New robots for gathering data inside the radiation-contaminated Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are ready to go into action, the Chiba Institute of Technology said Monday, three months after an older version got stuck inside the No. 2 reactor building.

News photo
To the rescue: In preparation for a mission inside the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Quince No. 2 moves through rubble on Monday at the Chiba Institute of Technology. HIROKO NAKATA

Equipped with cameras, thermometers and hygrometers, the pair of caterpillar-shaped robots, called Quince No. 2 and No. 3, are expected to be sent in by the end of February. The cost of developing the robots is estimated at ¥15 million to ¥20 million, said Eiji Koyanagi, the chief developer and vice director of the institute's Future Robotics Technology Center.

At the request of Tokyo Electric Power Co., No. 2 was also outfitted with a dust sampler to collect radioactive dust or ultrafine particles to ensure that workers at the plant are not overexposed. No. 3 has a 3-D scanner.

The robots are the advanced version of Quince, the first Japanese robot to enter the plant in June. It was abandoned inside the No. 2 building after its cable snapped in October.

In the early days of the Fukushima crisis, uncertainty over their ability to tolerate high radiation prevented Japanese robots from being sent into the plant.

As a result, the first robots to provide a glimpse inside were U.S. Packbot robots developed by Massachusetts-based technology firm iRobot Corp.

Learning from the failure of the first Quince, the two new robots can be connected over a wireless network, or to any other wireless robots, inside the reactor buildings, even if their cables are cut.

"The robots can actually help any other robots with an IP address," Koyanagi said.

Much longer than the 30-to-40-meter cable in the first Quince, the retractable cable in the new robots is 400 meters long, extending their mission range.

Koyanagi said his team is also developing three other types of robots. One can raise a camera 4 meters off the ground to take pictures of elevated machinery, such as cooling systems inside reactor buildings. Another will carry a 200-kg gamma camera.



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