Thursday, September 15, 2011

15/09 UAVs, robots to join response to N-disasters

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The government plans to introduce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and military robots to bolster the response to any future accidents at nuclear power plants and other disasters.

The purchase cost totaling an estimated 1 billion yen will be outlaid in the third supplementary budget for the current fiscal year, an official said Tuesday.

UAVs and military robots will be used by the Ground Self-Defense Force, and research will be conducted on practical applications for the purpose of disaster response, the official said.

The introduction of the advanced technology is based on lessons learned from the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

GSDF helicopters were mobilized to collect data from the Fukushima plant following the outbreak of the crisis, but their data-gathering ability was limited due to dangers of radiation exposure. Unmanned U.S. surveillance planes and military robots took the place of the helicopters to assess the situation inside and around the reactors.

The government plans to purchase two ScanEagle autonomous unmanned vehicles developed and built by Boeing Co. and the Insitu Group, both of the United States, as well as two domestically manufactured UAVs.

The ScanEagle, which has a wingspan of about three meters, was used by the U.S. military for operations in the Middle East and elsewhere.

For military robots, the government is considering U.S.-based iRobot Corp., whose robots were used to measure radiation levels inside the Fukushima nuclear complex.

If the UAVs and military robots prove successful in disaster-response efforts, the government will also consider using them in antiterrorism operations.

(Sep. 15, 2011)

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