On one side, a military-grade equine robot that rolls, jumps and spins; on the other, a spider-like excavator commissioned to crush and remove nuclear debris from the depths of Fukushima. Robot soldier vs. robot savior?
Introducing Handle, by Boston Dynamics:
MIT spin-off, Google-owned Boston Dynamics is both renowned and revered for its terrifyingly rugged zoomorphic military robots, from all-terrain BigDog, to sprinting Cheetah, to jumping SandFlea, to vertically climbing RiSE. Its latest steed, Handle, resembles an agile rearing horse, with wheels instead of feet on its rear legs. It can roll forwards and backwards faster than you can run, leap over obstacles and onto tables, lift 45kg, speed down stairs and spin right around to do it all again. The question is, what exactly will it be doing? Wherever it ends up being assigned, we certainly don’t want to get in its way.
Meanwhile in Japan, six new “muscle robots” have been revealed to daily newspaper Mainichi Shimbun with skills of their own. Among them, the six-limbed Spider, which measures 2.8m long with legs fully extended, can already move quite dextrously, even underwater, lift and transport objects weighing up to 10kg with a single arm, and should soon be able to hang from scaffolding and climb walls. Its colleague Tank can lift 35kg and is powered by water pressure and springs, making it resistant to radiation. The “hand” on the end of its arm is designed to break up melted nuclear fuel. In a somewhat playful twist, these leashed robots appear to be remote-controlled with what resembles a Nintendo-like game controller and joysticks.
A joint project by a number of companies including Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy and Chugai Technos, the Japanese robots are being developed in Hiroshima specifically to decommission the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Still in prototype phase, they will be tweaked to respond to conditions inside the reactors and will be deployed on the upper parts of the containment vessels. So far no word on exactly when they’ll be ready for action, but as the current quest in Fukushima has reportedly left a trail of dead robots, we’re rooting for these new muscle bots all the way.