Toshiba researchers develop vacuum cleaner robot to help with Fukushima nuclear cleanup

Researchers from Japanese technology firm Toshiba unveiled a new robot on Friday that will assist with the cleanup efforts in Fukushima by vacuuming up radiation with dry ice. The large device runs on two caterpillar treads and is remotely controlled, in addition to having four cameras that allow it to “see” its surroundings.

An engineer explained that dry ice, or frozen CO2, is blasted onto floors and walls of areas that are contaminated. The substance begins evaporating immediately, carrying radioactive particles in the resulting gases, which are then sucked up by a vacuum-like nozzle. Toshiba’s Tadasu Yotsuyanagi says that both the impact of the dry ice and its evaporation help detach the radioactive substances from the surface, and since the dry ice immediately turns into gas, there is no waste produced. The robot is said to be able to clean a 2 square meter (22 square feet) area in one hour, however it is not yet ready to hold more than a half an hour’s worth of dry ice at a time.

Toshiba will begin testing the new robot later this month, with a goal of sending it to the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant by the summer. In November of last year, the company unveiled a different kind of remote-controlled robot, one with four legs that is meant to navigate and climb over hazardous debris, in order to reach areas that are not safe for humans to venture. Unfortunately, at its display to the press the robot gave an error and malfunction-filled performance, freezing in place and requiring a reboot. When it was finally sent to Fukushima to help in December, it managed to photograph an important part of the reactor in an area with high levels of radiation, yet on a second trip it toppled over while attempting to climb stairs.

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