Following the news that the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan might be emitting dangerous levels of radiation, workers and officials have only been permitted to get so close to the reactors. Although now the plant--which has likely suffered partial meltdowns due to the natural disasters that literally shook Japan--will be checked for radiation levels close up not by humans, but by a robot.
The yellow robot, called Monirobo ("Monitoring Robot"), is designed to operate in areas experiencing radiation levels that are much too high for humans. Despite weighing 600 kilograms (some of the weight is radiation protection for the various cameras and sensors) and only fetching speeds of 1.4 miles per hour, it comes equipped with radiation detector, 3D camera and temperature, flammable gas and humidity sensors. It also has a big arm and claw used for sample collecting (even small dust particles) or moving objects out if its way. And of course, it can be controlled remotely.
There are two Monirobo machines in use presently: the yellow and a red one. The red one was put into action early last week, but doesn't have the flammable gas sensor and as good of a data collection tool as the yellow model.
As well a Monirobo, US Air Force drone Global Hawk has been flying over the plant despite the no-fly zone, providing detailed images of what is happening on the ground. Other robots in Japan were also developed for helping out in case of a nuclear emergency after the Tokaimura disaster. However, none of these were ever adopted because, according to The New Scientist, the "nuclear industry claimed that their plants were safe".
Let's hope Monirobo can get close enough to Fukushima's issues to further help put this horrific ordeal for Japan and its victims to rest. Check out Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun Translated] to see detailed plans of the robot.
Remember, there are various ways you can donate to the relief effort, as well as build gadgets to help those without homes get by temporarily.