Tag Archives: nuclear

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.  But 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?

The Debate rages on

Japan’s nuclear crisis will be on everyone’s minds right now. There are fears for the Japanaese people, for the risk of radioactive contamination traveling further afield, and for our own nuclear future.

The debate rages on about the future of nuclear power

Nuclear energy has been controversial ever since its beginnings in the 1950s- and the news coming from Japan is bound to strike an emotional chord. “Haven’t we had enough nuclear disasters?” people might be asking (thinking also of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island), ”without building more nuclear power stations here too?” 

So the debate has been reignited, with great force. In these times of increasing consumption, nuclear stations could really be the answer, providing plenty of carbon-free electricity to feed our insatiable energy appetites! But is investing in nuclear technology distracting from the real issue? Shouldn’t we be spending that research money improving our ways to harvest the renewable energy all around us? And can nuclear power really be called ’green’, given the massive risks if things go wrong? While the debate rages, France has been safely producing over 75% of its electricity from nuclear reactors, and there are plans for construction of about 60 new reactors across the world.

This also really highlights the importance of a scientific, research-based approach and open discussion to decide what our future will look like.