Small Spherical Robots Needed For Radiation Leak Testing

MIT researchers envision billiard ball-sized robots for use in the pipes in nuclear power plants. These small spherical robots could move through cramped tubing and send back images to engineers safely ensconced in a control room.

Harry Asada, a mechanical engineering professor and director of MIT's d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology, is aiming to address the problem with the development of a robot the size of a billiard ball that could withstand the pipes' harsh environment, travel wirelessly and transmit data on what it sees.

"We have 104 reactors in this country," Asada said. "Fifty-two of them are 30 years or older, and we need immediate solutions to assure the safe operations of these reactors."

Asada, working with two graduate students, is testing prototypes for a device that would be smooth on the exterior to avoid getting trapped in tight spaces and minimize the risk of breaking pieces off the sensors and other instrumentation already housed within the pipes.

Anirban Mazumdar, a doctoral student working on the propulsion system, said the team's approach has been to design the robot with interior chambers that can fill up with water, then spit that out in one direction or another to push the robot along the pipe.

SF fans (as well as fans of supermarionation) remember the early 1980's series The Terrahawks, which had spherical robots called Zeroids were used to fight the evil witch-like alien Zelda.


(Sargeant Major Zero and Zeroid 18)

I can see them rolling around in the pipes, protecting our nation from radiation.

Update: Robert Heinlein wrote about tagalongs in 1948 for use inside space stations and space habitats. Which were floating spheres. End update.

From NYTimes.

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