No Job for Humans: The Robot Assault on Fukushima


The night before the mission, Kenji Matsuzaki could not sleep. For more than a year, Matsuzaki and a team of engineers had been developing their little robot--a bread-loaf-sized, red and white machine equipped with five propellers, a transparent dome, front and rear video cameras, and an array of lights and sensors. Nicknamed Little Sunfish, it was engineered to operate underwater, in total darkness, amid intense radiation. And after three months of testing, training, and fine-tuning, it was deemed ready to fulfill its mission: to find and photograph the melted-down radioactive fuel that had gone missing inside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. More than six years had passed since an earthquake and tsunami hammered northeastern Japan and reduced the Fukushima facility to radioactive ruin.

Keeping the balance: How flexible nuclear operation can help add more wind and solar to the grid

MIT News

In the Southwestern United States, the country's sunniest region, sunlight can shine down for up to 14 hours a day. This makes the location ideal for implementing solar energy -- and the perfect test-bed for MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) researcher Jesse Jenkins and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory to model the benefits of pairing renewable resources with more flexible operation of nuclear power plants. They report their findings in a new paper published in Applied Energy. During summer 2015, Jenkins worked as a research fellow with Argonne National Laboratory on two power systems projects: one on the role of energy storage in a low-carbon electricity grid, and the other on the role of nuclear plants. Linking the two projects, he says, is the goal of using new sources of operating flexibility to integrate more renewable resources into the grid.

Artificial intelligence is too powerful to be left to Facebook, Amazon and other tech giants


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress made one thing clear: the government needs an Federal Artificial Intelligence Agency. Facebook FB, -0.26% is a canary in the proverbial AI coal mine. AI is going to play an enormous role in our lives and in the global economy. It is the key to self-driving cars, the Amazon AMZN, -0.63% Alexa in your home, autonomous trading desks on Wall Street, innovation in medicine, and cyberwar defenses. Technology is rarely good nor evil -- it's all in how humans use it.

Robot designed for faster, safer pipe cleanup at U.S. Cold War-era uranium plant

The Japan Times

COLUMBUS, OHIO – Ohio crews cleaning up a massive former Cold War-era uranium enrichment plant in Ohio plan this summer to deploy a high-tech helper: an autonomous, radiation-measuring robot that will roll through kilometers of large overhead pipes to spot potentially hazardous residual uranium. Officials say it's safer, more accurate and tremendously faster than having workers take external measurements to identify which pipes need to be removed and decontaminated at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon. They say it could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars on cleanups of that site and one near Paducah, Kentucky, which for decades enriched uranium for nuclear reactors and weapons. The RadPiper robot was developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for the U.S. Department of Energy, which envisions using similar technology at other nuclear complexes such as the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, and the Hanford Site in Richland, Washington. Roboticist William "Red" Whittaker, who began his career developing robots to help clean up the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident and now directs Carnegie Mellon's Field Robotics Center, said technology like RadPiper could transform key tasks in cleaning up the country's nuclear legacy.

Japan looks to use drones for disaster mitigation

The Japan Times

SENDAI – Municipalities and private firms are hoping robots and drones will be able to help with future disaster recovery efforts -- an initiative that incorporates lessons learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake -- by sending out warnings, gauging damage and accessing places were people cannot. To that end, the Sendai Municipal Government is testing a speaker-equipped drone for sending evacuation warnings during flight. Drones are quieter than helicopters, meaning messages would be easier for those on the ground to hear, city officials said. In such a system, the drone would automatically take flight after receiving a warning from the country's J-Alert early warning system and would issue evacuation messages to local residents. In the 2011 disaster, two city government workers and three volunteer fire department rescuers were killed in the tsunami while warning local residents to evacuate.

Robot will crawl through pipes to help decommission nuclear facility


There are miles of pipes at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, that no living creature can safely enter. So DOE will use a couple custom robots. Robots have found an important calling working in radioactive environments. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, teams of Japanese roboticists have created a small army of robots capable of surviving, if only for a few minutes, inside the compromised reactor cores. One of those robots recently transmitted the first photos of nuclear debris from the site.

Pipe-crawling Robot Will Help Decommission DOE Nuclear Facility - News - Carnegie Mellon University


A pair of autonomous robots developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute will soon be driving through miles of pipes at the U.S. Department of Energy's former uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, to identify uranium deposits on pipe walls. The CMU robot has demonstrated it can measure radiation levels more accurately from inside the pipe than is possible with external techniques. In addition to savings in labor costs, its use significantly reduces hazards to workers who otherwise must perform external measurements by hand, garbed in protective gear and using lifts or scaffolding to reach elevated pipes. DOE officials estimate the robots could save tens of millions of dollars in completing the characterization of uranium deposits at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, and save perhaps $50 million at a similar uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky. "This will transform the way measurements of uranium deposits are made from now on," predicted William "Red" Whittaker, robotics professor and director of the Field Robotics Center.

Video Friday: Robot Playdate, Big Drone, and Self-Driving Car in Snow

IEEE Spectrum Robotics Channel

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We'll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!): Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos. Agility Robotics had a good week. Cassie had a meet-and-greet with a four-legged friend during one of our visits to Playground.

U.N. hears how the Fukushima disaster is transforming Japanese students into agents of change

The Japan Times

NEW YORK – For a dozen students from Futaba Future High School in Fukushima Prefecture, a recent visit to the United Nations was a chance to share their plans to improve the lives of others by drawing from their catastrophic earthquake and tsunami experiences as a source of strength. Despite overcoming enormous hurdles in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, disaster that took more than 19,000 lives, the surviving students have moved forward with aspirations of choosing future paths to benefit the global community. "Thanks to all my experiences like getting bullied, joining the drama club and studying at my high school, I think I could grow well," Satsuki Sekine told U.N. diplomats, staff and youth representatives who gathered to hear their presentation on the current situation in Fukushima early this month as part of a scheduled visit while in New York. The 17-year-old explained how drama can be used to portray the challenges of discrimination and conflict "not as an abstract concept but with specific and visual examples." Recounting how the tsunami rendered her home unlivable, she explained how her life in Tomioka as a normal 9-year-old was turned upside down.

When WiFi Won't Work, Let Sound Carry Your Data


If you've ever struggled to pair your phone with a Bluetooth speaker or set up a wireless printer, you know that it's often easier to connect to a server halfway around the world than to a gadget across the room. That's a problem as we increasingly use our phones to pay for stuff, unlock doors, and control everything from televisions to thermostats. No one wants to wait for coffee because the cash register can't detect their phone, or shiver in the cold because their watch is trying to connect to their neighbor's door lock instead of their own.