Robotics - General News


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21 April 2009
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Video at this link -

Think of the military applications for robotic technologies able to be this dexterous and this fast. Humans can think awfully fast but are limited by our physical movement speed. Imagine a robotic soldier (or the M.U.L.E. as another example) able to detect the "exact" origination point of a snipers bullet in 1/10 of a second and then swivel, point and shoot back within another couple tenths of a second, BEFORE the sniper can change his position after pulling the trigger.

I don't know when, exactly, but man will be replaced on the battlefields of the future.
Thought this might be topical in light of current events. Both of these series were developed in the early 2000's by Hitachi for use in nuclear accidents. However they appear to have fallen victim to to political shenanigans shortly thereafter. The [final?] SWAN prototype ended up (ironically) in the Sendai Science Museum not too far from Fukushima, while the fate of the RESQ prototypes is unclear (if any of our members with Japanese connections has any idea, I'd be grateful).

Hitachi SWAN (Disaster prevention robot in nuclear facilities)


SWAN prototype on display at Sendai. [Credit: The Japan Times ONLINE]


  • Disaster prevention robot in the case of nuclear accidents. The robot can quickly move to the point of accident and assist restoration tasks. This robot features:
    ・ Possible to pass through narrow passages, stairs, and
     gaps, by changing its crawler shape in response to
     various sensor information.
    ・ Increased operability by the use of a binocular type wide
     range TV camera as well as a small camera equipped
     at its tool position.
    ・ Adaptable to a variety of works such as door opening,
     valve closing, and sample collecting, by remotely
     changing its tools.

Description via RSJ (Robotics Society of Japan) website, Hitachi history section.

Note: the SWAN can trace it's design lineage back to Hitachi's successful Intelligent mobile robot prototype of the early 1980's.

Hitachi RESQ (Remote information gathering robots)







  • Information gathering robots in the case of accidents in nuclear facilities. The following three types, each with a different role, were developed.

    ・RESQ-A, for the first stage information gathering.
      Small-sized, handy robot for fast information gathering.
    ・RESQ-B, for detailed information gathering.
      Measurement of various data such as radioactivity,
      temperature, humidity, distances, wind direction, and
      wind velocity. Possible to climb up 40-degree stairs.
    ・RESQ-C, for sample gathering.
      Gathering of gaseous, liquid, and solid samples by using
      its two arms.

Description via RSJ website, Hitachi history section.

Note: Both SWAN and RESQ seem to have been developed as part of a government sponsored program for such robots, headed up by the Manufacturing Science and Technology Center. Overall program budget was ¥3 billion (in today's money?), mostly in direct subsidies. Still trying to dig up info on the other companies/systems involved in the program, though it's likely that Mitsubishi and Toshiba both participated. Possibly Tmsuk was in the program as well.

EDIT: Major blunder on my part. It was not the RSJ website I got some of the info above from, it was from the website of a former head of the RSJ:

Sorry about that. :-[

EDIT2: The RESQ series may have been transfered to (or originally developed under altogether) a seperate JAERI [Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute] program:

(Scroll down to page 16. Also some interesting data about RESQ series rad hardening, although it may not be totally accurate in light of the trust of the article, i.e. promoting RaBOT.)
UPDATE: Looks like the JAERI program wasn't separate at all (in fact it looks like JAERI might have being just trying to take all the credit for the joint industry/government program).

Also, according to this:

apart from Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, the fourth initial contractor on the program was the French firm, Cybernetix, interestingly enough. Exactly which project team Cybernetix was on I'm still trying to dig up although it is possible it was the team that developed the infamous RaBOT.

EDIT: Here's a little more info on both SWAN and RaBOT (not the full articles, unfortunately).

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries seems to have been the primary lead on RaBOT. No word on whether Cybernetix was on the same team. Originally, Cybernetix was supposed to assist the other companies with their various contributions to the project, but it seems that it ultimately joined one of the project teams (although I still could be mistaken in that regard).

NOTE: SWAN stands for Smart Working robot for Anti-Nuclear-disaster. RaBOT stands for Radiation-proof Robot.

NOTE2: Tmsuk Co was only founded in the year 2000, so is unlikely to have participated in the joint program after all.

NOTE3: RESQ reportedly stands for REmote Surveillance Squad. However this comes from a somewhat suspect source, an old JAERI press release from August 2001, which claimed total credit for the development of both RESQ and RaBOT.
If this is accurate:

then the joint industry/government program (described here as for the provision of a "robot system for supporting at the nuclear disaster") was one half of a major robotics project for the development of "the two types of robots for non-manufacturing", the other half being the "development of a human-friendly humanoid robot".

The stated purpose was to see how a biped robot would perform along side humans in actual operational (both home and work) environments. Honda was the primary contractor on that program, using a development of it's P3 robot [ultimately 3 delivered as HRP-1 units] coupled with an advanced telepresence control system as a starting point. Also involved in HRP-1 development was AIST. A 'standard' P3 was used for some early tests.

Tested environments included "Plant Facility Maintenance", "Care Service", "Operating Industrial Vehicles", "Management of Buildings and Homes" and "Cooperative Outside Work". Kawasaki Heavy Industries seems to have been responsible for the telepresence system (also referred to as the 'Kawasaki cockpit') while Fujitsu Autonomous Systems Lab was responsible for the virtual platform that linked it and Honda's bot. Kawada Industries headed up a sub-group of companies and research institutes (including AIST, who handled primary design) that developed the HRP-2 series during the latter part of the program.

NOTE: To save time and space in future posts, I'll henceforth refer to the joint program as the 'JCO requirement' after the 1999 accident that set the program in motion in the first place.

NOTE2: The human friendly robot program was better known as the HRP (Humanoid Robotics Project) program. Budget was approximately ¥5 billion but that may not include cost overruns. Phase 1 (April 1998–March 2000) actually predated the overall 'robots for non-manufacturing' project, and covered the separate development of the bot and cockpit which were then brought together, integrated and tested, as mentioned above. Phase 2 (March 2000–March 2003) initially involved Fujitsu building a single HRP verification unit (another humanoid robot) for testing due to Honda being unable to provide further such units in a timely manner. This successfully filled the gap until Kawada's HRP-2 units were ready.

Side-note: The, apparently badly delayed, improved P3 prototype which caused the gap in the first place would, much later (in 2009), become the Honda P4.

NOTE3: AIST is the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Prior to it coming under the umbrella of the 'robots for non-manufacturing' project, under the control of the Manufacturing Science and Technology Center, HRP was an AIST project.
From the link in the previous post, some info on the 'JCO requirement':

A robot system for supporting at the nuclear disaster. This robot system was developed on the occasion of the JCO accident to execute countermeasures against calamities in place of people by means of remote control. This system consists of two "monitoring/surveying robots" that observe the situation of a disaster and work, three "light/medium/heavy work robots" that execute counter- measures at a disaster, one "heavy weight carrier robot", and the each remote control device. It is designed to make each robot collaborate on work under the critical situation such as the narrow space in nuclear facilities in addition to the high level radiation at the stricken area. It is desirable that nuclear disasters will never occur, however, people would be relieved if such kind of robots hurry to the scene of the accident.

The RESQ series would seem to be one of the 'two monitoring/surveying robots' mentioned, while SWAN is probably one of the three 'light/medium/heavy work robots'. Strangely enough, based on the little that I've being able to dig up so far, RaBOT may have been classified as one of the monitoring/surveying robots, rather than a heavy duty bot.
See below for an image of RaBOT [CREDIT: JAEA (formerly JAERI)].

A few notes:

Mitsubishi clearly used elements from their MARS product range in it's design. At first I thought that it also incorporated elements of its TAQT system but that seems to be incorrect as TAQT was apparently developed in response to a 2002 nuclear accident, under a Japanese government (Ministry of Education?) contract. Another reliable source seems to indicate development began as far back as 1991?, but I'm going with the 2002 timeline until otherwise proven wrong.

TAQT could be classified as an autonomous high mobility carrier for use in hazardous environments, especially high radiation ones. It was originally developed by Professor Shigeo Hirose at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Aisin Takaoka Co.,Ltd may have been involved in the construction of the prototype. Mitsubishi bought the rights to the design, however it was not successful commercially, mainly due to it's (pretty steep by all accounts) price tag. I did wonder if it was the 'heavy weight carrier robot' mentioned in my previous post, but for the moment, based on the timeline, I'm treating it as separate from the JCO requirement.

Professor Hirose also contributed design elements to members of the relatively more successful MARS Search and Rescue robot range, and through that, to RaBOT.

EDIT: It looks like it was actually Takaoka Manufacturing Co. which was the company involved in the construction of the prototype. Not sure if it's the same company as Takaoka Electric MFG.Co.

EDIT2: Confirmed it was the same company. Some more details on TAQT in the link below. Interestingly enough, development of TAQT was originally begun in response to a Takaoka requirement for a carrier for the purpose of transporting materials at construction sites and the like, before the government contract came along. This probably explains the confusion over developmental timelines. I don't know if Takaoka actually produced any production units for their own use prior to Mitsubishi procurring the rights.

EDIT3: Here's a old JAERI spec sheet on RaBOT. Minor health warning; it comes via that August 2001 press release I mentioned in an earlier post, but it seems accurate enough:


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The SWAN and RESQ series were developed at Hitachi's Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory (MERL), which was located at Hitachi System Plaza Katsuta, 832-2, Horiguchi district(?), Hitachinaka city, Ibaraki Prefecture. However, due to a reorganisation of R&D efforts, as of April 1st, 2011, MERL was merged with the Hitachi Research Laboratory. I haven't being able to discern yet whether or not the MERL still exists under the HRL banner, or whether the robotics research it was carrying out has being transfered to the HRL/other unit, outsourced, or simply scrapped.
Interestingly enough, it looks like two members of the Mitsubishi MARS family were directly involved in the JCO requirement. MARS-A and MARS-T, both first developed around 2001. Like SWAN, MARS-A seems to have been one of the three light/medium/heavy work robots in the program, while it looks like MARS-T filled the role of the program's heavy weight carrier robot. I had come across photos of the -A and -T units before, but hadn't realised that they were part of the JCO requirement. Some of their specs are at the link below:

(Original link)

[PHOTO CREDIT: JARA (Japan Robot Association)]


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It now appears that the second monitoring/surveying robot of the JCO requirement was the Toshiba SMERT series, made up of SMERT-M, and SMERT-K. This means that RaBOT was the third of the light/medium/heavy work robots after all. The two SMERTs worked together as a team, referred to in the link below as the 'Thunderbird robot'.

In an emergency, SMERT-M would be the first robot to respond, carrying out an initial survey of the incident/accident site, using default sensors including a camera, temperature and humidity sensors and a gas density (hydrogen & oxygen) analyzer. Additional sensors and equipment, including a neutron detector, could be fitted at various points using the SMERT's robot arm (including on the arm itself), without a human having been physically present. It also had as it's main external sensor platform an extendable pedestal, at the top of which different sensor packages could be swapped out, again using the arm.

The SMERT-M apparently was intended to have the ability to assess prevailing conditions (presumably based on data from it's own built-in sensors as well as data sent to it from a human operator) and adjust it's equipment loadout to suit, e.g., if there was a fire, the SMERT-M would automatically proceed to, and then select, the pre-prepared equipment package for fires, and equip itself with the appropriate load-out in order to further it's survey. Of course the operator could override that if necessary.

After completing the initial survey, the SMERT-M could then load and act as a carrier (including, apparently, acting as a recharging station and comms relay) for, it's smaller sibling, SMERT-K, which was intended to go and examine areas where it's larger brother could not enter, with SMERT-M handling such things as opening doors. For hard to open doors that it's arm could not handle on it's own, the SMERT-M was equipped with an door opening unit that could be classified as a sub-bot. The SMERT-M would use it's arm to place the sub-bot at the bottom of the door, where it would attach itself using a powerful suction cup, then pop out a small propulsion wheel, and use that to help open the door (with the SMERT-M also pulling or pushing at the door with it's arm).

Unlike SWAN and MARS (at least in 2001), the SMERT series used an easily portable Mobile console for command and control (last image).

Some SMERT-M specs (via blog entry linked below):
SMERT-M. Various cameras and sensor on-board possibility. Width 600mm, height 1370mm, length 760mm and weight 250kg. The pedestal section and it develops, to separate top, the switch is possible with the circumstance on of site

(Original link)

[PHOTO CREDIT: maikomijiyanaru blog]

(Please note that the 4th and 5th images are of the sub-bot.)


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See below for some nice pictures of SWAN on display at an International Robotics Exhibition (iREX2001?) in 2001, from the same blog entry as linked to in my last post (both the SMERT and MARS series were also on display at the same show). Bottom pic is of the SWAN control station as of 2001.

Some more SWAN data from previously referenced blog entry:
As for SWAN width 620mm and thinness. The size, height 1700mm, length 960mm and 331kg. While stereoscopic vision doing with the stereo camera, you work with the manipulator of the point

[PHOTO CREDIT: maikomijiyanaru blog]


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To recap, the robots known to be involved in the JCO requirement as of 2002 are:

Monitoring/surveying robots

Hitachi RESQ series
  • RESQ-A
  • RESQ-B
  • RESQ-C

Toshiba SMERT series

Light/medium/heavy work robots

Hitachi SWAN [Smart Working robot for Anti-Nuclear-disaster]

Mitsubishi MARS series
  • MARS-A

Mitsubishi RaBOT [Radiation-proof Robot]

Heavy weight carrier robot

Mitsubishi MARS series
  • MARS-T
In 2003, towards the end of the JCO requirement, Mitsubishi developed a robot for the monitoring/surveying robots category, a member of the MARS series designated the MARS-i. It was intended as a remote inspection robot for use both in and outside emergencies. It's roles were:

  • Routine inspections inside a nuclear power plant
  • Investigation of, and disaster information support within, atmospheres containing noxious gases
  • Investigation of areas contaminated with dangerous materials

Some more data on MARS-i at the link below:

(Original link)

[Under the 'Inspections inspections' (点検・検査) section of the main menu, click the 'Plant' (プラント) option, then click on 'Remote inspection robot MHI MARS-i'.]

[PHOTO CREDIT: JARA (Japan Robot Association)]


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Still trying to nail down an exact program timeline for the JCO requirement. Based on what I have at the moment, the program lasted roughly from late 1999 to late 2003 or early 2004.
This abstract:

adds another name to the known design team of SWAN, and the fact that Ryukoku University was involved with the development of SWAN's transformable crawler mechanism.

Known SWAN design team members as of now:

SAITO YUJI Hitachi, Ltd.
MASAKAZU EJIRI Hitachi, Ltd. MERL/ CRL (Central Research Laboratory)
IWAMOTO TARO Ryukoku University, Faculty of Science and Technology

NOTE: Masakazu Ejiri was also apparently involved in the development of the RESQ series, as well as SWAN's ancestor, the '80's Intelligent mobile robot prototype.
There is some indication that some of the tech developed for SWAN, including, possibly, collision avoidance algorithms, found it's way into Hitachi's EMIEW and EMIEW2 bots. No concrete confirmation of that yet, though.

They certainly shared some of the same designers, Yuji Hosoda in particular.
Somehow I missed this earlier. Apparently, one of the robots developed during the JCO requirement is still operational, at least to a degree. As of late March, it was still monitoring radiation levels at the Rokkasho nuclear plant, and prior to the March 11th earthquake, it had taken part in a number of emergency exercises there. I don't yet know if the robot is permanently based there, or if it was there as part of a R&D project, although I suspect the former.

As to which robot it is? Based on the limited info I have at the moment it seems probable that it is one of the three series of Monitoring/surveying robots known have been developed by the end of the JCO requirement, that is the Hitachi RESQ series, the Toshiba SMERT series, and the Mitsubishi MARS-i. These three series consisted of six different bots, although two of them (SMERT-M and SMERT-K) made up a complete system and so can be classified as a single robot.

Which ever of these three the robot comes from, it looks like Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (who are the most likely current owners of the bot) are keeping it in place at Rokkasho as an important tool, and are most certainly (and understandably) not volunteering what has become a scarce and valuable asset for use at Fukushima.

At least now it looks like the efforts of the JCO requirement weren't totally wasted by political maneuvering, although there no sign of any products of that program being brought to the aid of the beleaguered heroes at Fukushima, at least not yet.
A little bit of speculation here as to exactly which JCO requirement robot is in use at Rokkasho; Outside of emergency drills, it's apparent pre-earthquake use was as a routine inspection and monitoring bot, which, given the type of facility Rokkasho is, strongly suggests that it is either RESQ-B or MARS-i. Of these RESQ-B would probably have the edge in sensor fit, although MARS-i might have the advantage in terms of hardening/shielding, and possibly, mobility.

However, we can't totally rule out the SMERT-M/-K combo. It was designed primarily as an emergency response unit, but the design was pretty flexible, both in terms of sensor fit and equipment loadout. On the other hand, we don't know if, or how close, the A.I part of it's development was to completion at the time of the termination of the JCO requirement (assuming that there was no further development of the SMERT series afterwards due to lack of funding).

For the moment, my money is on the RESQ-B as being our mystery bot.
According to the short article linked below (part 1 of 2, although the second part is another short piece, this one about some of the perceived difficulties of developing and deploying robots for dealing with nuclear disasters, pre-Fukushima), the formal name for what I have been referring to as the 'JCO requirement' was "Robotic System for Nuclear Facility Emergency Preparedness". Oddly enough, the article claims that the project only lasted from January 2000 to late March 2001, which does not at all jibe with the info I've being able to dig up on the program so far. It's possible that the author of the article may have confused the initial development and test phases of the program with the program timeline in general (late 1999 to late 2003/ early 2004). Also, some Japanese news reports mentioning the program and it's supposed one year length may have used this article as a source.

Interestingly enough, the article also mentions it's predecessor program, which was part of the “National Project on Advanced Robot for Hazardous Environment” (1983-1990). The National Project had the following primary goal; “Considering robots as composite systems, develop component technologies necessary to realize such systems, and synthesize robot systems with the developed technologies”. The Nuclear Robot program was one of the three components of the project, the other two being a program for developing "Robots supporting petroleum production (Marine Robot)", and a program for "Robots for preventing disaster at production facilities (Disaster-preventing Robot)". The National Project cost around ¥20 billion in total, although some news reports had that down as the figure for the the Nuclear Robot program's budget! Woops!

In all, eighteen companies, two corporations and two national research institutes participated in the National Project. Of that, I don't have a breakdown on how many of those (apart from Hitachi of course) were directly involved in the Nuclear Robot program, or on the portion of the overall project budget it received, for that matter.

Contrary to recent reports, the program did actually provide a number of practical prototypes. At the time of the Tokaimura nuclear incident in 1999 (the JCO criticality accident), serious consideration was given to using those prototypes to help deal with the aftermath, but this was rejected, apparently because of a lack of trained operators who were experienced in dealing with nuclear incidents. However the incident did provide the impetus for the 'JCO requirement'.

Part 1

Part 2

Thoughts, anyone?
Via Danger Room:


EDIT: Via Crunchgear, see below for a diagram of the bot:


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An online article from the Asahi Shimbun, from late last month. It casts some light on the fate of some of the robots created during the JCO requirement. Note that the article has a strong 'go blame TEPCO and the other utilities!' bias. While they (TEPCO in particular) certainly deserve quite a fair portion of the blame, they are far from alone in that regard, a fact which a number of the sources contributing to the story seem to have been trying to divert attention from. Apart from that, there are some relatively minor mistakes, some of which I'll mention at the end.

The pre-Fukushima 'no need for robots' mindset of some that was portrayed was all too real, but it was not limited to certain members of the ultilites and Japanese nuclear power industry. The article though is a good attempt overall at analysing what went wrong with regards as to the unavailabity of robots to deal with the situation at Fukushima.

Japanese robots long gone before Fukushima accident


Five years before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Japan's six robots that could venture into a radiation-filled reactor building were consigned to the scrap heap.

The reasons ranged from the uneasiness they caused nuclear plant employees, to the belief that a nuclear power accident could never occur in technologically advanced Japan.

So, in a blow to the world leader in robotics, since April 17, the remote-controlled robots going where no man dare go in the crippled Fukushima plant were made in the United States.

"There was a consensus that it was necessary to prepare for emergency situations," said Takahisa Mano, a member of the research division of the Manufacturing Science and Technology Center, a public organization that promoted the development of Japanese robots after the JCO Criticality Accident in 1999 that killed two workers. "But electric power companies had a strong belief that those robots are not necessary because accidents do not occur at nuclear power plants."

Satoshi Tadokoro, professor of robotics at Tohoku University, said the robots were built in 2001 with existing technology, but would have improved greatly over the years if Japan had followed through with the project.

"If the robots were put into practice, their abilities would have been improved in the subsequent 10 years," Tadokoro said. "As a result, in the current nuclear crisis (at the Fukushima plant), they would have contributed to decreasing the burden on workers and the amounts of radiation they were exposed to."

The six remote-controlled robots for nuclear power plant emergencies were developed under a government budget of 3 billion yen ($38 million) to deal with possible accidents at nuclear power plants. Their development resulted from the so-called JCO Criticality Accident in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, in which an uranium solution accidentally reached criticality in JCO's facility, causing a nuclear fission chain reaction and killing two workers exposed to the radiation.

Four companies, including Hitachi Ltd., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Toshiba Corp., developed and manufactured the six robots in 2001 following the accident. The robots were built to endure deadly radiation levels of 10 sieverts per hour.

Much of the government budget was used for testing to confirm the robots' durability under high radiation levels. Robotics experts gave high marks to the completed robots, saying that they sufficiently met international standards.

According to engineers involved in their development, however, when the manufacturers suggested to electric power companies that the robots be placed at their nuclear power plants, employees at the utilities showed much uneasiness and started asking questions.

One asked, "Will accidents take place at nuclear power plants? What kinds of accidents? When?"

A task force consisting of five members, including executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Kansai Electric Power Co. and a government-affiliated organization on nuclear power development, considered whether to use the robots.

In December 2002, however, the group concluded that there would be few cases in which the robots would be utilized.

While the robots could be used to check and monitor sites while enduring high levels of radiation compared to humans, they would walk much slower and their range would be limited, the group said.

They also thought humans would still be able to work in a disaster-hit nuclear plant.

Consequently, the robots became expendable in March 2006 when their storage periods ran out. As a result, four of the six robots were given to Tohoku University. Of the four, one is now exhibited at the Sendai Science Museum.

The robots had been made with state-of-the-art technology of the time, including the ability to take water samples in reactor buildings. However, a curator at the museum said, "We don't know whether it can even be operated now."

Another robot was donated to a citizens' organization. The group dismantled it as a learning tool for children and later disposed of it.

Meanwhile, the United States and some European countries were placing a priority on utilizing robots in time of nuclear power-related disasters.

After the JCO accident in 1999, some researchers took part in an overseas research team that gathered ideas for the development of Japanese robots.

They learned that Germany had a system for dispatching robots within 12 hours after nuclear accidents occurred. Operators of the robots were receiving training five times a year, with each session lasting two weeks. France also had a similar system.

An executive of an electric power company, who was a member of the task force that concluded in 2002 that the robots were unnecessary, said, "We had a mind-set from many years ago that humans could go into the accident sites in emergency situations. We did not imagine that serious accidents could take place."

As for the 1986 Chernobyl accident that occurred in what was then the Soviet Union, the executive said, "We did not think about it as our own. We were not humble."

(This article was written by Seiji Iwata and Ryuichi Kanari.)

Alternate Link:

As I said there are a few (understandable) factual errors in the article with regards as to the robots in the JCO requirement. The first is that they seem to have mixed up the number of different series of robot (initially 6 in three categories, a 7th, MARS-i, was added towards the end of the program) involved in the program with the number of prototypes built. For example RESQ-A had two prototypes known to exist, while SWAN appears to have had at least two prototypes built, with the second (incidently the unit on display at Sendai) appearing to be a pre-production machine or something close to it. (There is still an outside chance that the Sendai unit is the original prototype rebuilt to such a standard, but it's unlikely, IMO.) While I still haven't nailed down the total number of prototypes of all series built, the known prototypes to date are as follows:

  • Monitoring/surveying robots category
    • RESQ-A: 2 prototypes
    • RESQ-B: 1 prototype
    • RESQ-C: 1 prototype
    • SMERT-M: 1 prototype
    • SMERT-K: 1 prototype
    • MARS-i: 1 prototype

    Light/medium/heavy work robots category
    • SWAN: 2 prototypes
    • MARS-A: 1 prototype
    • RaBOT: 1 prototype

    Heavy weight carrier robot category
    • MARS-T: 1 prototype

    Seven series, ten types in all.
    [Note: SMERT-M/-K were treated as one complete robot for most purposes.]

    Also, not all the JCO requirement robots ended up on the scrapheap, literally or figuratively. As I mentioned in a earlier post, at least one bot (likely the RESQ-B) is still operational, although not at Fukushima, unfortunately. By the way, given that it was in many ways it was the least complicated of the JCO bots, it's likely that it was one of the RESQ-A prototypes that ended up being 'dissected' by that school group.



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I meant to mention this earlier, but it appears SWAN and RESQ's birthplace, MERL is still active after all, under the umbrella of the Hitachi Research Laboratory. It's website (which may be interim) is currently here. The Hitachi webmasters appear to have improvised a bit when rearranging the company websites in accordance with the R&D reorganisation (probably because of the Tōhoku earthquake), so let me know if the link suddenly changes!

Another note: As I mentioned in a previous post, Hitachi's EMIEW series may incorporate tech originally developed for SWAN, including the algorithms (and hardware?) that make up EMIEW and EMIEW 2's much vaunted collision avoidance system. This raises the possibility that Tsukuba University, who helped develop this system as part of a joint project with Hitachi, Ltd. (in particular MERL), was also involved in SWAN's development. It's only a possibility at the moment, mind.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries seems to have been the primary lead on RaBOT. No word on whether Cybernetix was on the same team. Originally, Cybernetix was supposed to assist the other companies with their various contributions to the project, but it seems that it ultimately joined one of the project teams (although I still could be mistaken in that regard).

Hold the phone. Cybernetix actually built a robot for use in the program. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Menhir:



Well actually, the picture is of it's twin brother LMF, owned by the German nuclear disaster response concern, Kerntechnische Hilfsdienst GmBH (KHG). I haven't any photos of Menhir itself yet, but the two bots are supposed to be identical.

Menhir was not one of the official initial six robot series submitted for development and possible production (if it had, it would have probably been in the Light/medium/heavy work robots category). Rather, it appears to have been built as a high end test and comparison unit, in order to further Cybernetix's role of helping the other companies with developing their robots (I was wrong about Cybernetix joining a project team outright). LMF's spec sheet, which should parallel Menhir's own specs, is below.

Among it's features was radiation shielding nearly as good as that of RaBOTs (equal or better than, during the height of the program) e.g. a Max dose of 104 Gy* as opposed to RaBOT's 105 Gy and a much heavier lifting capacity, depending on configuration up to 1149kg v RaBOT's 15kg (it's handling capability was oriented towards lighter, more delicate and precise work). However, RaBOT probably had a better range of sensors overall, although that is not to say the Menhir/LMF series sensor fit is deficient, far from it.

Both Menhir and RaBOT were intended for monitoring, inspection and maintenance duties, but Menhir was optimised for heavy duty work such as moving equipment and debris, rather than data collection and equipment operation, although it could be pretty flexible in regards to those areas. Another thing they shared in common is that they were both telepresence robots, with command cable and RC modes.

As you can see from the specsheet and photos below, the Menhir/ LMF series operators use what can be classified as a partial waldo rig, together with a more conventional command console, to control the bot.

After the program ended, and despite it's capabilties, Menhir eventually ended up on display, apparently in a non-operable state, at Tohoku University. LMF, however, which was the second in the series, but not built as part of the JCO requirement but to a German order, is still fully operational as part of the KHG inventory.




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This is an updated list of the robots believed to be involved in the JCO requirement as of March 2003:

Monitoring/surveying robots

Hitachi RESQ series

  • RESQ-A
  • RESQ-B
  • RESQ-C

Toshiba SMERT series

Mitsubishi MARS series
  • MARS-i

Light/medium/heavy work robots

Hitachi SWAN [Smart Working robot for Anti-Nuclear-disaster]

Mitsubishi MARS series
  • MARS-A
Mitsubishi RaBOT [Radiation-proof Robot]

Heavy weight carrier robot

Mitsubishi MARS series
  • MARS-T

Test and comparison robot (semi-official category)

Cybernetix Menhir/LMF series
  • Menhir
The Mr. Evolta robot was originally just a PR tool to promote Panasonic's Evolta battery range, but it's taken on something of a life of it's own. B)

Tiny robot to attempt Hawaii Ironman triathlon

'Evolta', just 20 inches tall, is expected to complete course in about a week

TOKYO — After scaling the cliff walls of the Grand Canyon and driving the Le Mans racetrack for 24 hours, a tiny Japanese robot is set for a new challenge — Hawaii's grueling Ironman triathlon course.

Fitted with three different bodies, the hand-sized "Evolta" from electronics firm Panasonic will swim, bicycle and run its way through one of the world's toughest triathlon routes, the company said Thursday.

"This is very tough even for a sportsman, but I think it is worth a challenge," said Tomotaka Takahashi, who created the green-and-white toy-like robot.

"The robot will encounter a lot of hardships on its way, but I hope it will overcome them all and succeed in the end," he added.

The robot will have to swim, run and bike for a total of approximately 143 miles. The time given to complete the task is one week or 168 hours, which is ten times longer than it would take a sportsman.

"Evolta's height is just one-tenth of a grown man, so we figured out that it would take it 10 times more time," Takahashi added.

Special challenges
Of the three bodies, which include one mounted on a tiny bicycle and another in a round hoop with a supporting rear wheel, the 20-inch-high swimming robot — mounted on a curved, fin-like blade with its arms stretched out — presented special challenges.

"I had to think of the ways to make it water-proof and protect it from mold as much as possible," Takahashi said.

The batteries the robot bears on its back can be recharged up to 1,800 times by being placed on a recharger pad.

The triathlon challenge begins on Oct. 24 and will continue non-stop for seven days and nights.

The actual Ironman World Championship takes place in early October.

Among its other achievements, Evolta has also walked the 311 miles from Tokyo to the old Japanese capital of Kyoto.


Yuriko Nakao / REUTERS
Panasonic's "Evolta" swim robot, powered by the company's Evolta rechargable batteries, is demonstrated at a pool during a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday.


Yuriko Nakao / REUTERS
Panasonic's "Evolta" robots, swim (top), run (R) and bike robot (L), being demonstrated during a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday. [IMAGE CREDIT: Panasonic/MSNBC]
A little more background:
Avimimus said:
"It's funny - I thought death would take a taller form..."


Here's a pretty sceptical article from ITWorld:
It'd be hilarious if an eagle swooped in and flew off with him during the event. (I have no clue if there are eagles in Hawaii. Pelican maybe?)
An interesting concept that may be useful for small, lightweight robots: 'Flying carpet' of conductive plastic takes flight (short video clip at the link)


The sheet is lifted by the air packets, and propelled forwards [IMAGE CREDIT: BBC NEWS]

A miniature magic carpet made of plastic has taken flight in a laboratory at Princeton University.

The 10cm (4in) sheet of smart transparency is driven by "ripple power"; waves of electrical current driving thin pockets of air from front to rear underneath.

The prototype, described in Applied Physics Letters, moves at speeds of about a centimetre per second.

Improvements to the design could raise that to as much as a metre per second.

The device's creator, graduate student Noah Jafferis, says he was inspired by a mathematical paper he read shortly after starting his PhD studies at Princeton.

He abandoned what would have been a fashionable project printing electronic circuits with nano-inks for one that seemed to have more in common with 1001 Nights than 21st-Century engineering.

Prof James Sturm, who leads Mr Jafferis' research group, conceded that at times the project seemed foolhardy.

"What was difficult was controlling the precise behaviour of the sheet as it deformed at high frequencies," he told the BBC.

"Without the ability to predict the exact way it would flex, we couldn't feed in the right electrical currents to get the propulsion to work properly."

What followed was a two year digression attaching sensors to every part of the material so as to fine-tune its performance through a series of complex feedbacks.

But once that was mastered, the waveform of the undulating matched that prescribed by the theory, and the wafting motions gave life to the tiny carpet.

In the paper describing the design, Mr Jafferis and his co-authors are careful to keep the word "flying" in inverted commas, because the resulting machine has more in common with a hovercraft than an aeroplane.

"It has to keep close to the ground," Mr Jafferis explained to the BBC's Science in Action, "because the air is then trapped between the sheet and the ground. As the waves move along the sheet it basically pumps the air out the back." That is the source of the thrust.

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