Back in 2011, a series of disasters hit Japan, not the least of which was a severe meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The situation was scary enough for those who lived around the plant, but it must have been terrifying for the men and women who were forced to be on hand to deal with the radiation. Is there a better way to deal with severe leaks or meltdowns at nuclear plants? Researchers at Drexel University think so, and they think the answer lies with a robot.
Drexel is one of 10 schools engaged in an international competition sponsored by the Pentagon. The teams are tasked with creating a robot that can accomplish eight tasks, from getting to the scene of the problem, navigating piles of rubble, breaking through walls and shutting off valves. There are specialized robots that can handle these tasks individually, but in a disaster, the machine would need to have all eight skills in its arsenal.
"It's pushing the frontiers of robotics beyond anything that we know in any center, be it academic, industry, or government agency," Paul Oh, Drexel’s team leader, told Philly.com. The team’s proposal was good enough to get $3 million in funding from DARPA to work on the project. It is working toward a 2014 deadline.
If successful, the robots could change the face of the nuclear power industry, ensuring that disasters can be handled in a safe and speedy fashion, saving lives and preventing further tragedies. Putting Homer Simpson out of a job would be a small price to pay for that peace of mind.
Edited by Rich Steeves