Honda to improve robot to work at Fukushima

August 12, 2011

By YUKIO HASHIMOTO / Staff Writer

Engineers affiliated with Honda Motor Co. are applying the technology in the Asimo biped robot for a new machine capable of working in areas of high radiation at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant where human workers dare not go.

If successful, in another year or two, an improved version of the Asimo could be taking over the work at the Fukushima site. Currently, the robots in use are mainly those manufactured in the United States and Europe.

The Asimo biped robot technology being considered for application is the smooth arm movement that is close to what a human can do.

Adjustments can be made to the degree of strength that is applied in the robot's shoulder, elbow and wrists that are operated by motors.

While using the Asimo as the base, Honda officials want to create a robot devoted exclusively for working at the nuclear accident site by taking advantage of the arm technology of the Asimo.

Because the footing at the Fukushima site is treacherous due to rubble that could topple the robot, the biped aspect of the Asimo would be replaced by either tires or crawlers used on tanks.

In actual use, the improved robots would be transported into the reactor buildings at the Fukushima site, and workers would operate them via remote control.

Video images transmitted by the cameras attached to the robot would be used to perform such difficult tasks as attaching piping by screwing in bolts.

Another idea being considered is to use a biped Asimo to monitor the Fukushima accident site.

Even after the situation at the reactor cores stabilizes, the reactor buildings will likely continue to have high levels of radiation. Rather than risk exposing workers to that radiation, the Asimo would be used to monitor the site. The robot would be used to periodically inspect measuring instruments and collect data.

Honda engineers first released the biped Asimo robot in November 2000. Company officials had planned to release the latest version with major improvements this fiscal year. Those improvements would be the first in four years.

Original plans called for adding control functions that would allow the improved Asimo to reach a destination with higher accuracy as well as to have much smoother arm movements.

The Fukushima nuclear accident occurred as engineers were in the process of developing the improved version.

The Asimo, which is 130 centimeters tall and weighs 54 kilograms, can travel at a maximum speed of 6 kph.

The Asimo has until now been used mostly as a communications robot at events. However, proposals were raised both within Honda and outside the company suggesting that the Asimo technology be used to handle the Fukushima accident.

Using the technology that would have gone into the improved version, engineers quickly changed course to develop a robot to handle the nuclear accident.

The new robot is being developed at Honda R&D Co. in Wako, Saitama Prefecture. Officials are seeking an early use of the improved robots while cooperating with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

By YUKIO HASHIMOTO / Staff Writer
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The Asimo biped robot (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Asimo biped robot (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • The Asimo biped robot (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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