End the Lie

Japanese brain wave-controlled robotic suit could help make Fukushima cleanup effort safer

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By End the Lie

A robot suit entitled HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) is displayed at the Japan Robot Week exhibition in Tokyo. The brain wave-controlled robot suits that allow wearers to don heavy radiation protection without feeling the weight were unveiled in Japan (Image credit: AFP/Raw Story)

Contrary to popular belief, the horrific nuclear disaster at Fukushima is far from over. Indeed, as Agence France-Presse (AFP) points out, “The decommissioning of the crippled plant is expected to take several decades.”

However, the “profoundly man-made” disaster at Fukushima and the dangers associated with the ongoing cleanup effort could be mitigated, at least in part, by robotic suits controlled by the brain waves of the operator known as the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL).

It is worth noting that the true state of the Fukushima plant remains largely mysterious because outside experts are not allowed to actually inspect the plant and give an independent report on the status of the reactors. Furthermore, the spent fuel rods in the pool at reactor four – which are currently in a precarious state – will not be moved until late next year.

HAL is outfitted with a network of sensors that pick up the electrical signals from the operator’s brain thus synchronizing the movement of the robot’s limbs with those of the wearer.

On a somewhat humorous note, HAL not only shares the name of the truly evil supercomputer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” but also is being developed by Cyberdyne, the fictional company that made the Terminator robot in the 1984 “Terminator” film.

Thankfully, it seems that this technology is at least slightly less wicked than the fictional ones mentioned above.

Indeed, according to Yoshiyuki Sankai, professor of engineering at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, the outer layer of the robotic suit helps block radiation while internal fans circulate air, keeping the operator comfortable, and an onboard computer monitors the operator’s heart-rate and breathing for signs of fatigue and distress.

According to Sankai, the suit’s technology will essentially make the 130-pound tungsten vest worn by cleanup workers almost unnoticeable.

One can assume that this would greatly extend the amount of time they can remain a part of the cleanup effort since they will be exposed to less radiation and be put under less physical stress.

HAL came on display as a part of “Japan Robot Week,” which also featured small robots capable of gathering information in locations unsafe for human beings by running on caterpillar tracks specially designed to enable the robots to traverse rough terrain.

These robots, like the HAL suit, could also help the ongoing effort at Fukushima, according to the inventor, Eiji Koyanagi of the Chiba Institute of Technology.

Koyanagi said that his devices could be deployed very close to the damaged reactor core at Fukushima, much closer than would be safe for human workers.

“We have to think of ways to protect nuclear workers, otherwise Fukushima won’t be sorted out,” said Koyanagi.

Indeed, Koyanagi couldn’t be more correct, yet it seems that much of the world has allowed the severity and ongoing nature of the Fukushima disaster to somehow be pushed out of their consciousness.

Unless it continues to be brought up and treated with the seriousness it deserves, one can only expect that the problem will remain unresolved and that is completely and totally unacceptable.

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One Response to Japanese brain wave-controlled robotic suit could help make Fukushima cleanup effort safer

  1. Dave parrish October 18, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    I’ve seen this movie. It ends badly


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