NASA robotics technology looks inside Japan's nuclear reactor

Apr 27, 2011 By Priscilla Vega
This image shows the two PackBot "ancestors," Rocky-7 (left) and Urbie (right). Rocky-7 features a lightweight frame structure, which served as a test bed for NASA's current twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Urbie, which also included some NASA technology, was another lightweight structure with rugged features, useful in emergency response situations. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Design techniques honed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for Mars rovers were used to create the rover currently examining the inside of Japan's nuclear reactors, in areas not yet deemed safe for human crews.

The iRobot PackBot employs technologies used previously in the design of "Rocky-7," which served as a terrestrial test bed at JPL for the current twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. PackBot's structural features are modeled after Rocky-7, including the lightweight, high-torque actuators that control the rover; and its strong, lightweight frame structure and sheet-metal chassis.

PackBot's other "ancestor," called Urbie, was an urban reconnaissance with military and disaster response applications. Urbie's lightweight structure and rugged features also made it useful in emergency response situations; for example, at sites contaminated with radiation and chemical spills, and at buildings damaged by earthquakes. Urbie's physical structure was designed by iRobot Corp., Bedford, Mass., while JPL was responsible for the intelligent robot's onboard sensors and vision algorithms, which helped the robot factor in obstacles and determine an appropriate driving path. Following the success of Urbie's milestones, the team at iRobot created its successor: PackBot.

Since 2002, iRobot has delivered variations of the PackBot model to the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. The tactical robot's first military deployment was to Afghanistan in July 2002, to assist soldiers by providing "eyes and ears" in the most dangerous or inaccessible areas. It was also used to search through debris at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

Recently, iRobot provided two PackBots to help after the devastating March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The PackBot models, currently taking radioactivity readings in the damaged Fukushima Daiichi buildings, are equipped with multiple cameras and hazard material sensors. The images and readings provided by the PackBots indicated radiation levels are still too high to allow human repair crews to safely enter the buildings.

Urbie was a joint effort of the Defense Advanced Research Project's Agency's (DARPA) Tactical Mobile program, JPL, iRobot Corp., the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Southern California's Robotics Research Laboratory. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Explore further: An android opera: Japan's Shibuya plots new era of robot music

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

iRobot Introduces PackBot Explorer Robot

Jul 01, 2005

iRobot has introduced the iRobot PackBot Explorer, a new addition to iRobot's combat-proven line of PackBot robots. With new intelligent surveillance equipment, including three cameras, and greater flexibility to customize wit ...

Robotic technology lowers military risks

Jun 07, 2006

With suicide bombing and improvised explosive devices escalating violence in Iraq, engineers are working to advance robotic technology to counter these deadly military problems.

iRobot's PackBot on the front lines

Feb 24, 2006

Almost three years into the Iraq conflict and four into the Afghanistan war, the phrase "improvised explosive devices" has become one that is met with hesitation. This is a new style of combat that's still ...

iRobot Unveils Morphing Blob Robot (w/ Video)

Oct 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- iRobot's latest robot is unique on many levels. The doughy blob moves by inflating and deflating - a new technique its developers call "jamming." As the researchers explain in the video below, ...

iRobot Introduces its Pet and Pro Series

Sep 03, 2008

Today, iRobot has just announced a new line of robotic friends. Their Pet Series includes: the iRobot Roomba Pet Series and Professional Series Vacuum Cleaning Robots. As the name implies, the Pet Series is ...

Researchers Test Steep-Terrain Rover

Feb 05, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and students at the California Institute of Technology have designed and tested a versatile, low-mass robot that can rappel off cliffs, travel ...

Recommended for you

Japan toymaker unveils tiny talking, singing humanoid

Oct 15, 2014

Japanese toymaker Tomy on Wednesday unveiled a multi-talented humanoid robot, named "Robi jr.," which can converse using some 1,000 phrases and belt out about 50 songs, as well as move its limbs and head.

Can we teach robots right from wrong?

Oct 14, 2014

From performing surgery and flying planes to babysitting kids and driving cars, today's robots can do it all. With chatbots such as Eugene Goostman recently being hailed as "passing" the Turing test, it appears robots are ...

User comments : 0