Friendly robots

A few weeks ago I posted about Robolobster, a mine-seeking robot modelled after a lobster for underwater bomb disposal. Now I come across another fantastic piece of robotic technology, that one day could be out there doing dangerous jobs so us humans don’t have to: a small spherical drone which can navigate the underground pipes of a nuclear reactor and inspect them for leaks. Right now the only direct method of inspecting those same pipes for leaks is digging them up and having a look. But these little underwater patrollers are designed to withstand the reactor’s radioactive environment and, equipped with a camera, can send images back in real time.

A spherical robot equipped with a camera may navigate underground pipes of a nuclear reactor by propelling itself with an internal network of valves and pumps.

A pipe-navigating robot for nuclear reactors

The extra-cool thing is how these little robots swim! Though they appear completely smooth and spherical, their propulsion system harnesses the force of the water rushing through the pipes themselves. The scientists developing these used 3D printers to construct a fine network of sensitive valves over the ‘skin’ of the spheres, so if they want the robot to change direction, they give the command to shut off certain valves, and the flow of water through the open ones makes a jet stream that sends the robot scampering (hopefully in the intended direction).

It’s easy to see how this robot, like Robolobster, could be beneficial to our lives; they do jobs that directly save human lives, and save humans money. ┬áBut if robots do all these dangerous jobs, will we become detached from real danger and not take it as seriously? Are there any robotic technologies that worry you? And how do we draw the line between beneficial and problematic?

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