Japanese nuclear reactor maker Toshiba on November 21 unveiled a remote-controlled robot resembling a headless dog that they hope will be used at the battered Fukushima power plant. The tetrapod, which weighs 65 kilograms (143 pounds) and is about one metre (3 foot, four inches) tall, is designed to be able to cover difficult terrain - such as going up steep steps - that regular robots struggle with.
The robot's triple-jointed legs are designed to give it maximum flexibility, with engineers saying it will be able to go into spaces where high radiation makes it impossible for workers to do so. The robot can carry a load of 20 kilograms and is equipped with cameras and a radiation meter, expected to help workers decide which parts of buildings are safe to enter and for how long.
The machine can also carry a small wired vehicle equipped with a camera and send it out to crawl into small spaces to carry out inspections. Toshiba engineer Goro Yanase said the as-yet unnamed robot could be upgraded to carry more than 80 kilograms, climb ladders and step over obstacles up to 50 centimetres (20 inches) high. Robots have already been used inside the wrecked plant to take video footage, including the US-made PackBot and Japanese-made Quince crawler robots, but Toshiba is awaiting the go ahead from plant operator TEPCO to deploy its creation.
The massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11 last year sparked an atomic emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the north-east of the country. Efforts to clear up after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 are still continuing, with high levels of radiation hampering operations.