General, Research, Technology

How Fukushima Changed Japanese Robotics and Awakened the Industry

In March 2011, Japan sweptcatastrophic earthquake that caused a terrible tsunami. Thousands of people were killed, and billions of dollars of damage made it clear that the disaster that happened was one of the worst in modern history. For several weeks, the eyes of the world were riveted to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Her safety systems could not cope with the damage caused by the tsunami, and there were chances that the catastrophic meltdown of the reactor would spread radiation to several countries, as was the case in Chernobyl in the 1980s. Heroic attempts to save the reactor, including the discharge of sea water into its core, helped prevent a serious catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of people are still evacuating from the disaster area, and infrastructure rehabilitation and cleaning will require hundreds of billions of dollars and many years.

Because radiation is extremely dangerous for people,a natural solution during the Fukushima disaster was to send robots to monitor radiation levels and attempt to start the cleaning process. But deep in the heart of the reactor core, technology optimists faced an obstacle that even optimism did not help them overcome. Radiation fried the circuits of robots sent there, even those that were specially built to cope with the Fukushima disaster. The nuclear station slowly turned into a cemetery of robots. Although some of them managed to measure the level of radiation around the station - and recently the robot was able to find the straightened uranium fuel in the heart of the catastrophe - the hopes that they could play an important role in stripping the station began to fade.

In the neon area of ​​Tokyo, Shibuya lights shine at night.brighter than the day sun. In karaoke booths on the twelfth floor - because everything is on the twelfth floor - businessmen bawl popular songs. This place may seem the most artificial on Earth; all senses will be blinded by technical optimism. Usually pictures of this place symbolize futurism and modernity.

Japan has long been famous for its love offuture technologies. Now, for example, the technology giant Softbank, led by founder Masayoshi Son, is investing billions in the country's technological future, including plans for the world's largest solar farm.

When Google sold Boston Dynamics in 2017,Softbank added it to its portfolio, along with renowned robots Nao and Pepper. Some may decide that Dream is gambling with robotics, because he takes on a project in which even Google did not succeed, but this person lost almost everything in the collapse of the dotcoms in the 2000s. The fact that even this collapse did not rob him of optimism, and his faith in technology speaks for itself. But how long will this go on?

The failure of Japanese robots in an attempt to cope withthe aftermath of the Fukushima accident has created a crisis in the industry. Disasters like this are like the last exam for robots. If robots are unable to help people in extreme conditions, what's the use of them? Initially, the production of a humanoid robot will be very expensive, and the robot itself will be much less capable than humans. Creating such a robot will not be economically feasible. It is much more profitable to build a robot that will cope with work that is too dangerous for people. But as Fukushima showed, robots of even one of the most advanced nations in the world are not ready to replace people in the most difficult conditions.

Nowhere was this crisis felt more than in Honda. The company developed ASIMO, which surprised the world in 2000, and continues to develop robots. But despite all the technological advances, Honda knew that ASIMO was too unreliable for the real world.

It was Fukushima that caused a change in Honda's approachto robotics. Two years after the disaster, it became known that Honda was developing a robot for disasters, and in October 2017 the prototype was first presented to the public. What is noteworthy, the creators decided not to give the robot dexterous hands, but instead provided him with remotely controlled tools, which, if necessary, will be used in emergency conditions.

This shift from creating humanoid entertainment robots like ASIMO to creating useful rescue robots has been reflected all over the world.

In 2015, also inspired (if you cansay) the catastrophe in Fukushima and the lack of operational robots DARPA tested humanoid robots in different conditions, which can be useful in cases of accident or disaster. Such robots must, for example, drive cars, open doors and climb stairs. ATLAS from Boston Dynamics, Korean HUBO, as well as CHIMP have already shown what they are capable of if necessary - for example, to stand up themselves after a fall. It just sounds funny - it looks much more interesting.

However, the DARPA Robotics Challenge showedto us, how far robots are from being at least a little useful to us, not to mention surpassing us in many ways. Many robots need a watch to complete a simple task, the same ascent of stairs. Even teaching a robot to overcome a threshold is no longer easy.

Fukushima may have launched a rebuild infuturistic Japan, but before robots fully enter our daily lives, they will have to prove their worth (and usefulness). Unmanned robots, meanwhile, are already doing pretty well with surveillance at the disaster site. But to build a robot that can be perfectly controlled on land is a completely different matter.

Creating a humanoid robot is expensive. If these expensive cars (the bill can go up to millions of dollars) can not help in the crisis, people will begin to question the very need to invest in robotics. This could worsen the crisis of confidence in robots among the Japanese, who are starting to rely on robots as a solution to the crisis of an aging population. The Japanese government has already invested 44 million dollars in the development of robots.

But if the robots cannot pass the exam, go to themthere will be serious questions. In Tokyo's Akihabara district, one can see all kinds of bright, shiny robotic toys that dance, sell, and entertain crowds of people from all over the world. However, robots must be partners, assistants, rescuers.