Fukushima: robot finds massive deposits thought to be melted nuclear fuel


Click to enlargeInt’l Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning/Kyodo News

❝ Images captured by an underwater robot on Saturday showed massive deposits believed to be melted nuclear fuel covering the floor of a damaged reactor at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant.

The robot found large amounts of solidified lava-like rocks and lumps in layers as thick as 1m on the bottom inside a main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel of Fukushima’s Unit 3 reactor, said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

❝ On Friday, the robot spotted suspected debris of melted fuel for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns and destroyed the plant. The three-day investigation of Unit 3 ended on Saturday.

Locating and analysing the fuel debris and damage in each of the plant’s three wrecked reactors is crucial for decommissioning the plant. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels…

When you screw-up a nuclear-fueled power plant the sort of damage you produce is generational in scope.

Tim the robot — monitoring the Large Hadron Collider

❝ Hundreds of feet below the French-Swiss border lays the Large Hadron Collider. The 17 miles of strange tunnels accelerate particles at close to the speed of light before smashing them together to see what happens.

That’s an oversimplification of a complicated process, one where a lot can go wrong. Someone has to monitor the miles of concrete, plastic, steel, and glass below the earth to avoid disaster and keep science moving. Someone does, someone called … TIM.

Domino’s to test autonomous pizza delivery robot

dominos-dru-delivery-robot-4.png
Unboxing the prototype

Domino’s has announced its own autonomous pizza delivery machine. Built on military technology, DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) can keep pizza hot and drinks cold on the way to your house and is set to hit the streets of Australia in prototype form for testing.

Designed in Domino’s DLAB innovation hub in Brisbane, Australia, DRU is built to handle short-range deliveries with very little human intervention, has a heated compartment to keep your capricciosa warm, and a chiller to keep your drinks cool, inbuilt GPS for navigation and a bunch of sensors to try to stop it from running into things on the pavement. Domino’s says it is working with the government to build a legal framework in which it can start testing DRU in the real world…

DRU is part of a broader automation movement in the fast food industry that seeks to replace human workers with cheaper, more efficient and oftentimes more effective machines. And while Domino’s has made fun of the concept in the past, the company swears that DRU is no April Fool’s joke.

In a civilized, urban society this could work fine. Between income inequity, ignorance and greed, I can see the average neighborhood anarchist-cum-gangbanger looking at one of these as a rolling piggybank with edibles. Smash-and-grab on wheels.

OTOH, our leading contributor down under in Oz suggests a contender for useful robot employment.

Dalek-Dr-Who

Thanks, Honeyman

Rescue robots need to imitate cockroaches

It’s possible that if you were trapped under a pancaked skyscraper after an earthquake, or in a mine that had just collapsed, you’d be totally fine with getting rescued by a giant robot cockroach. What are you going to do? Say, “No, thanks, I’m good, send something cute”?

Even if you did request something more charismatic, odds are it couldn’t reach you. The American cockroach, says a paper out today, is perfectly adapted for getting into tiny spaces a human-shaped rescuer might not, thanks to a collapsible exoskeleton and really creepy mode of locomotion. The cockroach, it turns out, is a good model for a rescue robot. The researchers even built a prototype. It skitters.

Yes, it had to be cockroaches. “We are not entomologists. We also think they’re disgusting,” says Robert Full, who works on biomechanics and animal locomotion at UC Berkeley and is lead author on the article, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “But they can teach us bigger principles.” As is typical for insects, cockroaches have an exoskeleton—overlapping plates of a tough material called chitin held together with a flexible membrane. In the wild, that flexibility lets American cockroaches run about 5 feet per second, more than 3 mph…

Don’t blame the cockroaches for their extraordinary adaptability to that space between your floorboard and your wall. That’s not what their skill set evolved for. It actually keeps them safe. “Cockroaches like to be against walls, against surfaces, and the more surfaces they can contact, the more comfortable they are,” says Coby Schal, an entomologist at North Carolina State University. It’s called “thigmotaxis,” and the roaches feel most OK when they perceive a slow, light brushing against bristles that grow from their bodies…

That collapsible exoskeleton is yet another physiological marvel. Not only does it flex and expand—allowing for developing insects to grow and molt, and bloodsucking insects like bedbugs to accommodate the meal they have made out of your precious life essence—it also shunts their mass around. “In a cockroach the blood flows in an open cavity called a hemocoel,” Schal says, “so it can deform its body by moving blood from one part to another.” It’s like a disgusting, insectile, armored balloon…

Gross, sure, but it also makes a great model for robot mobility…That’s why you might not mind if a robot bug comes to rescue you. A Terminator wouldn’t be able to get there at all. “It’s not like the Darpa robotics challenges where you go down a hall, down stairs, skip over some rubble. No, no, no,” Murphy says. “You’re going into spaces too small for a human or a dog to get into. Or maybe they’re on fire…”

If you still can’t handle the idea of someday being carried to safety by a swarm of chittering, exoskeleton-wearing robot bugs, Full has you covered. He’s also working on a giant crab.

Something, anything, saving my butt is welcome. I don’t even care if it looks like Ted Cruz.

You may bump into this robot in your local grocery store

As long as consumers love low prices a trend will continue — the evaporating human employee.

Tuesday a Silicon Valley start-up unveiled Tally, a robot designed to help retailers track their shelves far better than a human employee could. Robots like Tally can’t do everything a person can, but they offer a reminder of how machines increasingly excel at roles long held by humans.

The idea behind Tally is to take inventory faster in a given store. Simbe Robotics chief executive Brad Bogolea says the robot could scan a CVS, Walgreens or small grocery store in 30 or 40 minutes. Tally can capture data on 15,000 to 20,000 products an hour, far more than a human employee…

The 38-inch tall Tally is programmed to navigate a store while stopping to take photos of shelves. These are uploaded to the cloud and compared against an idealized representation of the store to see if products are where they should be, and are properly priced. Computer-vision algorithms analyze what is out of stock, which products are facing the wrong direction and what is misplaced. A store manager then receives a report.

Before Tally is ready to work, a retail employee must first guide it through the store to help it build a map of where it can go. Or a store could send its floor plan to Simbe Robotics, which will then program a specific robot with a map of the space. Tally also includes a range of sensors so that it won’t crash into shelves or customers. It can see items on shelves up to 8 feet high…

Simbe Robotics believes the data it gathers from shelves would be of interest to more than just store managers. It’s interested in eventually selling the information — which it compares to a real-time Google Maps street view of an aisle — to brand managers. They could easily see how products are doing in a given shelf space, or how they are being presented in comparison to competitors.

Excepting skillful placement, display merchandising, poisonally I think you can achieve the same result with smart algorithms, sensible database management, point-of-sale software and oversight from experienced traffic managers. Exact fit to the kind of work I did in one of my careers, Guaranteed to drive you mad as a hatter. 🙂

Breaking News in LA TIMES — written by a Robot

The Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper to publish a story about an earthquake on Monday – thanks to a robot writer…Journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke created an algorithm that automatically generates a short article when an earthquake occurs.

Mr Schwencke told Slate magazine that it took around three minutes for the story to appear online.

The LA Times is a pioneer in the technology which draws on trusted sources – such as the US Geological Survey – and places data into a pre-written template.

As well as the earthquake report, it also uses another algorithm to generate stories about crime in the city – with human editors deciding which ones need greater attention.

Other news organisations have experimented with algorithm-based reporting methods in other areas, particularly sports.

The generated story does not replace the journalist, Mr Schwencke argued, but instead allows available data to be quickly gathered and disseminated.

“It’s supplemental,” he told the magazine.

“It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would.

Maybe so. It’s as elemental as the sparse data served up by some wire services. At worst, probably not as useless as the crap offered up by so-called local TV. Which is generally the property of some amorphous conglomerate hundreds of miles away with no “local” ownership.

At its best, this could be as useful as an up-to-the-minute neighborhood weather report. Especially if there actually is a follow-up article written by a sentient being.

Thanks, Mike