By Tatsuo Nakajima and Sho Funakoshi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
Japanese teams were badly beaten at a recent competition for robots that work at disaster sites people cannot approach, such as the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Immediately after the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima plant, Japan did not have robots capable of working at sites full of debris. Those mobilized at the nuclear plant were all foreign-made, mainly from the United States.
The results of the international robot competition indicated that Japan still faces significant challenges in developing robots for work at disaster sites, even though more than four years have passed since the crisis began.
The Robotics Challenge Finals 2015 was held early this month on the outskirts of Los Angeles, organized by a research division of the U.S. Defense Department.
Among the 24 participating teams, 12 were from the United States, five from Japan and three from South Korea. The competition was conducted under severe conditions — wireless telecommunication lines to remote-control the robots were intentionally cut off, for example.
The Japanese teams’ robots often fell down or became unable to move. The top-finishing Japanese team, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, came in 10th.
First prize was won by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), a South Korean university, which defeated the powerful U.S. teams.
The KAIST team has participated in the event since its preliminary rounds 1½ years ago and remodeled its robot repeatedly. Its robot cleared all eight tasks without falling down once.
Prof. Oh Jun Ho of KAIST said, “We aimed to make a robot that would not break down, fall down or die.”
Japanese robots come up short in practical capabilities.