Can Robots Save Us From Nuclear Disaster?

Written by Brandon Garrett

Imagine that a nuclear plant is on the verge of a meltdown. How would we stop it? Anyone who would volunteer to go inside and turn off the reactor would most certainly not make it back alive.

That’s where HUBO comes in. DRC-HUBO is a humanoid robot made by disaster researchers and students at Drexel University. He is designed to walk into nuclear plants, locate the necessary valves and turn them off in order to avert a nuclear disaster.

“This is supposed to work in human surroundings such as if there’s a lot of radiation in a disaster scene … or clean up waste using tools that humans would normally use, but because it’s dangerous for humans to be there, we want a robot to do those tasks,” researcher Dr. Daniel Lofaro told NBC10 Philadelphia.

Dr. Lofaro and his team are participating in the U.S. Department of Defense’s DARPA Robotics Challenge which seeks to have a working robot in service by 2020. The prize for the winning group is $2 million.

The idea for HUBO came about after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011.

“Someone needed to go in and turn a valve to turn on the cooling system would have had the radiation not leak out. We couldn’t send in a human to do that because they couldn’t have gotten half way before dying,” he said.

Currently, HUBO needs human assistance but the team is working on making the robot independent.

“That may seem far-fetched, but think about seven years ago from now. Did you have an iPhone? No. Were you able to communicate from one side of the world to another that quickly? No,” he said. “So seven years isn’t a very long period of time.”

You can read more and watch more of HUBO’s tests here.

Updated August 23, 2013

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