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Nuclear Reactor Robots

August 17, 2011

Robots offer a safer way to inspect nuclear reactors for defects.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Well-rounded nuclear inspectors. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Defects in nuclear reactors are dangerous, but it’s hard to look for them directly. That’s why researchers at MIT have developed robots for the job. The robots can navigate a reactor’s underground water pipes, checking for corrosion or failed sensors. Mechanical engineering grad student Ian Rust says that unlike other robots designed for this purpose, theirs has the advantage of being wireless and shaped like a ball.

IAN RUST (Massachusetts Institute of Technology):

It can basically rotate in space in any direction, and always occupy the same space, and not risk any damage to protruding sensors or something like that.

HIRSHON:

The robots’ built-in cameras can snap photos inside the pipes, and transmit them to an outside computer. As for steering, Rust says it relies on the same basic principle as loaded dice: A remote operator shifts around the robot’s internal machinery, which changes its center of mass and makes it rotate in a new direction. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.