At Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, robots have been dispatched to take radioactivity readings in areas considered dangerous for the Tokyo Electric Power Company workers. This is the "first time in more than a month," that robots have descended on reactors in order to check radiation levels and gauge temperature and pressure, according to an AP report.
They may be unlikely bedfellows, but the PackBots exploring the Fukushima facility are made by the same U.S. company, iRobot, that produces the Roomba vacuum cleaner bot and makes versions that have explored caves in Afghanistan. In Japan, they have been tasked with a job described "a harsh environment for humans to work inside." So far, data from the robots investigation shows that they've found high levels of radiation inside the building, but there's little else they can do. "Eventually, people must enter the buildings," a TEPCO official told the AP.
Previously, news outlets had been curious as to why Japan hadn't commissioned the wider use of robots to help stabilize highly-dangerous areas of the facility. Nearly a month ago, The Atlantic's Edward Tenner wondered about this exact question and noted a Reuters report detailing an interesting response:
While Japan is renowned for its cutting edge technology, it also maintains an anachronistic element in its society that relies on humans for tasks that have given way to automation in many other parts of the world, such as operating elevators and warning motorists of road construction.
Below, a PackBot opens a door in unit two of the facility:
A radio-controlled PackBot opens a door in reactor three: