By Alexandra Burlacu | Nov 22, 2012 12:50 PM EST
Toshiba has just unveiled a new robot designed to explore the radioactive mess of Japan's Fukushima No. 1 reactor in Tokyo.
Announced on Wednesday, Nov. 21, Toshiba's new four-legged robot can also birth a second, separate robot that is able to squeeze through narrow, barely accessible spaces.
The four-legged robot beast carries both a camera and a dosimeter, and can be remotely controlled by a wireless operator. The robot also packs advanced onboard intelligence that allows it to navigate across uneven terrains without tumbling.
According to Toshiba's announcement, the robot can not only climb stairs and walk on uneven surfaces, but it can also avoid obstacles due to the dedicated movement algorithm. The robot is designed to secure access in difficult-to-reach locations where wheeled robots or crawlers fail.
The tetrapod can hit a maximum speed of 0.6mph (1km/h), which is just a fraction of the 18mph speed of DARPA's cheetah robot, but it should suffice to do some valuable exploration while its batteries last. The robot has a claimed battery life of roughly two hours.
The Japanese electronics giant decided to develop the four-legged robot because the Fukushima plant still has plenty of areas that are hard to access, and wheeled or tracked robots simply cannot get through. Toshiba's robot, however, is not small at all. It is more than three-feet tall and over 20 inches wide. As previously mentioned, it can deploy a second camera robot via a robotic arm for narrower spaces.
The companion robot is brought back to the main tetrapod via a cable, but packs its own battery that can last for up to one hour of use. This second robot, however, is even slower than the main one, reaching a maximum speed of 0.12mph. The good news is that it allows the safety team to navigate through pipes and around toppled equipment.
According to Toshiba, the next step is to enhance the robot, making it capable of installing shielding, stopping leaks, and removing obstacles. In other words, the company's new tetrapod should help make the Fukushima power plant safer for human involvement. Toshiba did not mention when the robot might go for its first exploration mission.