Honda Jointly Develops Robot For Post-Earthquake Efforts At Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station

Honda has jointly developed a highly innovative survey robot as part of the effort to control the situation at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station after the Japan earthquake struck in 2011.

The robot was developed in conjunction with Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), using technologies that Honda applied to the invention of its humanoid robot ASIMO. The robot was gifted to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) this week and has been put to work inside the power station at Fukushima Daiichi.

Honda, which spends $7bn annually on research and development, started work on the robot after approaching TEPCO to see how Honda’s robotic technologies could help in the effort to control the situation at the Fukushima power plant, which was declared a disaster site after the earthquake.

The decision to build the robot was prompted in part by a flood of enquiries from Honda customers about whether or not ASIMO could be sent to the disaster site to assist. The most pressing need that was ultimately identified by TEPCO was for a high access survey robot that could survey high and/or narrow places.

AIST developed the high-area accessible crawler work platform for the robot, while Honda developed the survey-performing robot arm, which is installed on top of the platform. In developing the survey-performing robot arm, Honda applied technologies that were developed originally for ASIMO including:

 

  • Enabling of 3D display of structures surrounding the subject of the survey, using a 3D point cloud (a group of vertices in a coordinated system)
  • A control system that enables simultaneous control of multiple joints
  • Control technologies which enable the robot arm to absorb the impact when it makes physical contact with surrounding structures

When approaching objects, the robot uses a zoom camera, razor range finder and a dosimeter located at the tip of the arm to confirm detailed images, collect 3D data and identify sources of radiation.

The high-area accessible crawler work platform built by AIST has a low center of gravity to enhance the stability of the robot, and it has various remote control technologies, ingeniously positioned camera, lights, razor marker and other devices, enabling it to be remotely controlled via 400-metre fiber-optic wired LAN and wireless LAN.

Honda and AIST also jointly developed the intuitive remote-control interface. Using this interface, the operator can control the robot from a remote location and allow the robot to manoeuvre in dark and narrow places in the reactor building. Once the robot reaches a target spot, the mast can be extended to survey areas as high as seven metres without hitting the robot arm against surrounding structures.

As part of its R and D work, Honda has been studying and researching the possibility of using humanoid robots at disaster sites. Following the production of the survey robot, Honda will accelerate the development of humanoid robots designed for use in response to disasters, including the prevention and mitigation of damage caused by a disaster.