TOKYO--Japanese authorities are planning to use a Honeywell T-Hawk micro air vehicle to check radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, while unmanned drone helicopters from France are also joining the effort.
Small enough to fit in a backpack, Honeywell's T-Hawk can do vertical takeoffs and landings and hover in place while monitoring a target. The U.S. government apparently proposed it for checking radiation levels at spent nuclear fuel pools at the plant, according to a Kyodo News report.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been trying to cool the spent fuel in the pools with water. Radiation around the pools is believed to be very high, hindering workers' efforts to restart cooling systems. There are over 10,000 spent fuel rods at the site.
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The 17-pound T-Hawk can fly to 10,000 feet and work in 20-knot winds, with a top speed of 46 mph and operating time of 56 minutes. It can operate autonomously or by remote control. Check out the vid below for details.
It has logged more than 10,000 flights in missions that included explosive ordnance disposal exercises in Iraq. The U.S. Army introduced it there in 2007, and the U.S. Navy has also used it.
Meanwhile, French UAV maker Helipse is sending three unmanned helicopters to Japan to help monitor the Fukushima Daiichi plant, highlighting the international nature of the robotics response to the crisis.
In response to an order from the Japanese government, Helipse has prepared three copters with radiation sensors, infrared thermometers and cameras, according to a Kyodo report. They can fly autonomously for up to an hour.
The copters are about 10 feet long and can take off and land autonomously. There's a pic of one of them here.
The drones should be here in Tokyo soon, and will join other foreign robots heading north to the nuclear plant. Authorities expect the crisis will continue for weeks or months, so a robot army may well assemble in Fuskushima.