Call it too little, too late.
Mitsubishi is the latest Japanese conglomerate to show off a new robot to work at the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, following Toshiba's flubbed demo of a quadruped walker.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Japan's largest defense contractor, yesterday unveiled the Maintenance Equipment Integrated System of Telecontrol Robot (Meister), a two-armed unit that rolls around on four tracks.
The remote-controlled bot can wield a variety of tools such as cutters and drills, clear obstacles, and pierce through concrete to check radiation levels, according to MHI.
Just like human arms, its robotic appendages can move along seven axes. Check it out cutting a pipe in the video below.
Meister weighs some 970 pounds and measures 4 feet long. That would prevent it from getting into the nooks and crannies of the Fukushima plant, which has been probed by a variety of bots including iRobot's PackBot, but MHI wants to send it there.
It's based on Rabot, a machine developed by MHI and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency following a nuclear criticality accident at a uranium reprocessing facility in 1999 that left two workers dead. MHI's experimental MARS-D robot, designed as a nuclear plant inspector, was also a basis for Meister.
Had Rabot, MARS-D, and other nuclear robots been robustly developed in the following decade, Japan might have had a fleet of robots ready to tackle the Fukushima plant after it was slammed by a massive quake and tsunami in March 2011. But they weren't.
Of course, one of MHI's business lines is building nuclear plants, and it has constructed more than 20 in Japan (General Electric designed Fukushima's reactors; ironically, an American GE manager who died in 1979 is buried in the evacuation zone).
You'd think MHI would have spent a lot of time and money creating robots that can intervene when something goes wrong at nuclear facilities. It did develop Wakamaru, a cute household communication robot with big eyes and a bright yellow shell, but with a price tag of $19,000, it was a commercial failure.
Let's hope Meister will be the first of many droids that can help when humans can't.