Saturday, October 15, 2011

No. 328: Government-led program to develop three kinds of robots workable in a disaster (October 15, 2011)

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports,Science and Technology decided to start developing three kinds of robots workable in times of disasters like earthquake and tsunami in 2012. The underlying theme is to develop workable robots in a disaster site. They are a robot to save afflicted people under the wreckage, a wearable robot helpful to save afflicted people, and a robot to search afflicted people under water. The ministry will take the initiative in the project, and local governments and Fire and Disaster Management Agency will take part in the project from the R&D stage. The ministry will invest 1.1 billion yen in this five-year project, and it already appropriated nearly 300 million yen in the budget request for 2012. Beginning in April 2012, researchers from research agencies, companies, and universities are scheduled to participate in the project.

The research team will develop a technology to know the complicated situation inside the wreckage using 3D images and a sensor technology to search afflicted people in the sea and sludge, while taking their user-friendliness into consideration. Traditionally, universities take initiative in developing robots in Japan, and their robots lacks workability in a disaster site because they tend to place too much emphasis on the technology itself. As a matter of fact, most robots that played an important role in the Fukushima disaster were foreign-made robots.      

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