Today the deployment of several small, agile robots (built by iRobot) to explore the Fukushima reactor buildings confirmed the expectation of very high radiation levels there. The application of robots to this type of exploration and monitoring represents the forefront of technology and should be more in evidence in the days to come.
In our research at Stevens’ Maritime Security Laboratory, we partner with iRobot to use their latest underwater robots for patrolling port waters. We have a small fleet of iRobot unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV’s). The most novel is the Transphibian that was designed to mimic an amphibious animal – using flippers with 6 degrees of freedom for motility and also to hover.
We use our iRobot UUV’s to monitor and measure the waters of New York/ New Jersey harbor. They are capable of carrying a range of payloads like sensors and cameras for mine detection, harbor defense and surveillance. We design missions for the robots based on the forecasts from our high-resolution estuary & ocean forecast model, NYHOPS. This mission-planning step allows us to optimize certain parameters like conserving battery life, or reducing the risk of vehicle damage. For currents can exceed 2 knots routinely in the highly variable Hudson River!
These same types of vehicles would be quite useful in measuring the radiation levels in the coastal ocean off of Fukushima. Gliders designed for deeper ocean deployments (such as iRobot’s Seaglider) proved quite valuable in mapping the DeepWater Horizon oil spill in real time. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more such novel applications of robot technology as the Fukushima crisis continues to unfold.