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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rescue Robots & Systems Research in Japan

The Great Hanshin earthquake (Kobe earthquake), in 1995- a massive scale earthquake of magnitude 9.0, which had approximately 6,434 fatalities, and caused approximately ten trillion yen ($100 billion) in damage, 2.5% of Japan's GDP, made serious weaknesses in the Japanese earthquake disaster preventions system visible. At that time the Kobe earthquake was Japan's worst earthquake in the 20th century after the Great Kantō earthquake (M 7.9) in 1923, which claimed 140,000 lives. 

After the 1995 earthquake disaster the government sponsored the Special Measure Law on Earthquake Disaster Prevention to promote a comprehensive national policy on earthquake disaster prevention and to improve communication and application of earthquake research results to the general public and disaster prevention organizations. The Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, a special governmental organization attached to the Prime Minister's office (now belongs to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), was established in accordance with this law.

Earthquake Research 2006-2011
The Special Project for Earthquake Disaster Mitigation in Urban Areas (2002-2006) conducted by the Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo. The project revealed the detailed geometry of the subducted Philippine Sea plate (PSP) beneath the Tokyo Metropolitan area and improved information needed for seismic hazards analyses of the largest urban centers. In 2007 the Special Project for Earthquake Disaster Mitigation in Tokyo Metropolitan Area started focusing at  the vertical proximity of the PSP down going lithospheric plate and the risks for the greater Tokyo urban region that has a population of 42 million and is the center of approximately 40 % of the nation's activities. A M 7 or greater (M 7+) earthquake in this region at present has high potential to produce devastating loss of life and property with even greater global economic repercussions. The Central Disaster Management Council of Japan estimated that a great earthquake in the region might cause 11,000 fatalities and 112 trillion yen (1 trillion US$) economic loss. The Earthquake Research Committee of Japan estimated a probability of 70 % in 30 years for a great earthquake in this region. 

Rescue Robots & Systems Research Projects
In  2002 the DDT Special Project for Earthquake Disaster Mitigation in Urban Areas was launched as one of the urban renewal projects by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The project  was carried out in Japan´s fiscal years 2002-2006 by nationwide researchers and organized by International Research System Institute. The objective of the project was to develop practical technologies related to robotics as a counter measurement against earthquake disasters, and include robots, intelligent sensors, information equipment, and human interfaces that support emergency responses such as urban search and rescue, particularly victim search, information gathering and communication. Typical technologies are teleoperated robots for victim search in hazardous disaster areas, and robotic systems with distributed sensors for gathering disaster information to support human decision making. The research budget was approx. 400 million JPY a year ($ 5million) and 33 research groups with more than 100 researchers have been involved in developing  Aerial Robot Systems, Information Infrastructure Systems, Rubble Robot System and On-Rubble Robot System. The project is well documented in Rescue Robotics - DDT Project on Robots and Systems for Urban Search and Rescue, by Prof. Satoshi Tadokoro, Tōhoku Univ. (Ed.) presenting the most significant robotic systems and technologies such as serpentine robots, tracked vehicles, intelligent human interface and data processing, as well as analysing and verifying the results of experiments. 

 The largest rescue robot "T-52 ENRYU"
Credit: tsmuk, Enryu 53
In 2004 robot company tmsuk, located  in Munakata-City, Fukuoka launched the "T-52 Enryu"  developed as a large-scale rescue robot for use at disaster sites. "T-52 Enryu" was one of the world's largest rescue robots, measures approximately 3.45 m in height and 2.4 m in width and weighs 5 ton. Each arm, having eight joints, can lift 500 kg (1 ton with both arms). It is operated in two modes: one by an operator riding in the robot and the other by remote operation by master-slave control and joystick control for perilous situations in which rescuers cannot gain access to victims because of the risk of secondary disaster. 
T-53 Enryu
In 2007 the rescue robot T-53 Enryu was released for rescue work at disastrous places where rescue workers cannot go into. T-53 Enryu was the 3rd generation tmsuk rescue robot. tmsuk had worked closely with national fire department to develop T-53 Enryu, which thus has been embedded with much desired functions. T-53 Enryu is made more compact than the previous rescue machines. It has maximized maneuverability for emergency operations. Furthermore, the synchronous robot arm systems have sophisticated motion control capabilities of operators. In 2008 the T-53 Enryu has participated in recovery efforts during the earthquake in Kashiwazaki City, Niigata. Check out the demonstration video below. 

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