The Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 was a wake-up call across the globe to the potential danger of nuclear energy -- but could technology help us to respond to such emergencies?
The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton has been developed by the University of Tsukuba spin-off company Cyberdyne. Once disaster strikes, safety of on-call teams is paramount -- and that is where this new suit comes in.
According to Cyberdyne, the exoskeleton can reduce radiation exposure by 50 percent, and includes a cooling system to prevent heatstroke. Heart rates and vital signs are monitored in real-time, and most of the suit's weight is carried by the skeleton's mechanical legs -- as well as tools that can be used to repair damage.
The HAL suit was originally intended to be a rehabilitation aid, although other modifications have resulted in a significant increase of a wearer's strength.
In addition, part of the same initiative has resulted in the development of remotely-operated robots that can enter radioactive areas unaided. Two generations have already been built -- Rosemary and Quince -- and now "Sakura" is the latest attempt in rescue robotics. It can be used to inspect damage pipes, radiation levels and humidity.
With further development and minimization of the robots, it is expected that they will be able to explore anywhere within a reactor. At the moment it is able to negotiate stairwells and narrow passages, and is able to function for three years without maintenance.
The exoskeleton was developed under NEDO's "unmanned systems research and development project disaster" in conjunction with the Chiba Institute of Technology. It will be unveiled at Japan Robot Week 2012.
Image credit: NEDO