Only Hollywood could romanticize the disaster at Fukushima with their creative fantasy of Godzilla 2014. The movie starts out with an awakening of some kind of hibernating pre-historic praying mantisaurs (dinosaur) wanting to find its mate and all the death and destruction in its pursuit. For food, it eats any and all radioactive sources it finds along the way. The mantisaurs’ natural predator is none other than our friendly Godzilla to save the day. Who thinks up this stuff? What Hollywood missed from the Fukushima disaster was the development of a whole new generation of search and recue robotic technology the humanoid.
I have written about Fukushima several times in past articles and even though no one died from its radiation release, I have failed to mentioned that we were damn lucky that week because the wind was blowing off shore and not inland. The hydrogen level had reached explosive state spewing radioactive debris all over the immediate surrounding plant area. The radiation level was too high for any man to enter the twisted and mangled structure to assess or to take any preventive actions to minimize the situation. They needed a non-human solution.
Over the last several years we have experience a number of natural disaster like earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, cyclones, droughts, flooding and even man made disasters like war. There are so many times where it was way too dangerous for search and recue teams to enter in pursuit of finding survivors. That is where sophisticated robotics is needed and not just one kind of robot, but many different kinds of functionality.
The solution: Let’s have a contest and challenge the Universities and robotic research companies with the DARPA Robotics Challenge to come up with a search and recue robot that can do “complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments that represent situations like Fukushima or Nepal.” DARPA – which stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is putting up the prize money for the contest.
The robot must be able to:
- Drive a utility vehicle at the site.
- Travel dismounted across rubble.
- Remove debris blocking an entryway.
- Open a door and enter a building.
- Climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial walkway.
- Use a tool to break through a concrete panel.
- Locate and close a valve near a leaking pipe.
- Connect a fire hose to a standpipe and turn on a valve.
When a natural disaster occurs and it is to dangerous for humans to enter, we just send in the robots to assess the situation and even take action to put a lid on the disaster as fast as possible. This could have prevented most of the radiation release at Fukushima if someone or something could have entered the damaged area and turn a release value manually.
The primary participants in the endeavor were from the US, EU, Japan and South Korea. What? No China! China is to busy building everything else in this world, including islands in the South China Sea.
Taking first place and the $2 million in prize money went to Team Kaist of Daejeon, Republic of Korea, and its robot DRC-Hubo. Coming in second and taking home $1 million is Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Fla., and its robot Running Man. The third place finisher, earning the $500,000 prize, is Tartan Rescue of Pittsburgh, and its robot CHIMP.
Chimp was my favorite, although Hudo was very impressive and deserving of being the champ. The Cavaliers were also my favorite team in the playoffs, but those Warriors were also very impressive and deserving of being the champs.
To learn more about the participating robots: http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/humanoids