Development of Disaster Relief Robots
Development of Disaster Relief Robots
  • Lee Joong-yeop, Deputy Director of Robot Division
  • 승인 2011.05.20 14:38
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Lee Joong-yeop, Deputy Director of Robot Division in Ministry of Knowledge Economy

Robots are a representative fusion industry and it has recently tapped into new markets besides the existing manufacturing robots, combining together with various services such as medical care, education, and firefighting. In particular, there is a growing social interest for disaster relief robots including firefighting robots due to the recent severe earthquakes in Japan. In this, we would like to present the current status of disaster relief robots in and outside the country as well as the related policies.

To start, disaster relief robots in our country have partially been developed with indoor-outdoor firefighting robots and lifesaving robots as the government's R&D project. From the year 2010, firefighting robots for extinguishing and lifesaving in confined space are under development. However, there has yet been a case where these disaster relief robots have been put to use in real life situations, and as to the already developed firefighting robots, there were cases where they participated in comprehensive training exercises to publicize the performance of firefighting robots.

In this matter, the government, starting from this year, plans to promote a fire extinguishing improvement project with the support of R&D and recent pan-government robot pilot projects by dispatching the firefighting robots developed so far in real fire scenes. This is due to the fact that the domestically developed disaster relief robots have never been dispatched in actual scenes and thus application testing and evaluation is urgent and research for performance improvement for higher application in fire scenes is in need. In particular, robot types that can react properly in various situations of disaster while moving at high speed on rugged grounds lack diversity, and establishing a communication network in regards to the electricity cut-off in disaster scenes is one of the challenges to be worked out.

Robotics technology for nuclear power plants, a technology for equipment inspection and maintenance as well as how emergency response works in restricted high-radiation facilities, has been developed as the base research and development study for the Nuclear Energy Promotion Comprehensive Plan and Research & Development Project since 1988. The domestic robotics technology for nuclear power plants have been developed by the Atomic Energy Research Institute with cooperation from technical service companies such as KEPCO KPS, a company specializing in equipment, and Doosan Heavy Industries, a company specializing in machinery manufacturing.

The snake-like looking rescue robot burrows 7 meters down into the gravel and sends images

However, there has been no case of development of responsive robots for emergency situations regarding nuclear power facilities like the one in Fukushima, Japan. Our technology level is similar to that of Japan, who has already carried out the development, but is rather low compared to Germany and France who have continuously performed their research and development as well as system management. But in the current situation where technology development is stagnant in advanced countries, experts say that it can be overcome to some extent with internal technology development.

As an example of a representative disaster relief robot in other parts of the world, there is the case in Japan where it is reported that a snake-like robot developed by Tohoku University came into use in search for tsunami remains in the Sendai region. This robot is equipped with an Active Scope Camera and a specialized Servo Motor System, with 65cm-long bright-field microscope.

And as for the robots actively engaging in radiation contaminated regions, there is the Quince Robot developed by Chiba Future Robotics Technology Center in Japan. This is a robot that can roll on dangerous areas such as chemically, biologically, and especially in this Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant case, radioactively contaminated grounds where firemen cannot easily enter. It is also equipped with a camera and moves at 1.6 m/s.

This robot, called ‘Quince,’ is set up in Tokyo

Owing to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant incident in Japan, technology development for safe use of nuclear plants is expected to consistently remain an important issue. Especially with the safe and quick handling of deploying disaster relief robots in nuclear power plant scenes, interest and R&D demand in this field is likely to increase.

There is however innumerable problems we need to resolve in order to call nuclear power plant robots to the scenes. First, the material must be of high quality that does not alter with the reach of gamma rays in order to bear the radiation exposure, and not to mention that the lead-used shield design is of importance. Aside from these technical problems, due to the fact that a code of conduct concerning robots is not set in the emergency response manual within the accident scenes, thorough testing and training on how human beings will organically deal with situations with robots must be conducted following that technology has been developed to a certain degree.

Besides the nuclear power plant robots, other general disaster relief robots must be of high technical quality and must go through a variety of tests. In this regard, the government will give unlimited support to the application tests of firefighting robots through our current pan-government robot pilot projects, doing our best to examine the difficulties at actual scenes and establish systems suitable for adopting the robots. For the technical challenges that we face, we plan to search for R&D projects and fully support them. And with all conditions arranged through pilot projects and R&D, we are looking to improve the related regulations gradually.

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