Japan shows off disaster-response robots at exhibition

Humanoid robot HRP-2 (left) making its way through mock debris during a demonstration at the annual International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo yesterday. Japan, a country on the Pacific Rim of Fire, is developing robots to carry out dangerous work in di
Humanoid robot HRP-2 (left) making its way through mock debris during a demonstration at the annual International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo yesterday. Japan, a country on the Pacific Rim of Fire, is developing robots to carry out dangerous work in disaster areas.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • Japan displayed a pair of two-legged humanoid robots yesterday that can operate in harsh conditions as the country prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions prepares for the next catastrophe.

Simulating work in a tunnel after a quake, two slender robots with tiny heads attached with sensors walked through fake debris to extinguish a fire at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo.

The four-day event, which kicked off yesterday, is held once every two years in Japan's capital. This year, it has drawn nearly 450 participating organisations, the most since it started about four decades ago.

Some 57 of the groups are from countries including France, Britain, Russia and South Korea. This year's show is focused on robotic equipment for disaster relief, assisting the elderly as well as their caregivers, and for farming.

Disasters are a fact of life for Japan, an archipelago nation facing the "Ring of Fire" - the rim of the Pacific Ocean rim that includes other quake and volcanic zones from Chile all the way to New Zealand.

The two disaster-relief droids were developed under the New Energy and Industrial Development - a national research organisation - that started after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan in 2011.

During the demonstration, HRP-2 Kai, which is 170cm, walked on a narrow board while the 188cm-tall Jaxon - developed by the University of Tokyo - moved forward by bending its back and putting both hands on the floor, judging that the ceiling was too low to move upright. It then lifted itself up to remove a box and debris to secure a pathway - tasks that could be done even in a risky environment hazardous to humans.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Japan shows off disaster-response robots at exhibition'. Print Edition | Subscribe