While the world watches anxiously as the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) begins its most dangerous operation yet in the ongoing clean-up of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, large Japanese corporations continue to design and build robots to help go where people cannot. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has built a new remote-controlled robot called the MHI-Super Giraffe, which has an extendable arm capable of reaching up to 8 m (26 ft), and borrows battery technology from Mitsubishi Motor's electric vehicles.

The Super Giraffe (Global Innovative Robot Arm For Future Evolution) weighs 4 tons and moves at a maximum speed of 6 km/h (3.7 mph) on flat ground. Though not the most agile robot, it can handle up to 15 degree slopes. It's powered by a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery adapted from Mitsubishi Motor Company's electric vehicles (specifically the i-MiEV), and can work up to 5 hours on a single charge.

It gets its name from a five-step telescopic ladder connected to a 7-axis robot arm, which can be used to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Crucially, this arm can be equipped with modular tools weighing up to 20 kg (44 lb) to perform different tasks inside the plant. Operators will be able to open or close valves, inspect pipes for leaks, cut through metal and concrete, and decontaminate an area, all from the safety of a wireless control station. The company says it will release the design plans so that other companies can help develop modules for the robot to expand its capabilities.

Another cool feature are its four outriggers, positioned on the four corners of the robot's body, which extend out like legs to help stabilize it whenever its arm is extended. A sensor inside the robot calculates its center of gravity at all times, and sounds an alarm if it starts to tilt too far in any given direction.

The robot was developed alongside examples from Toshiba, Hitachi, Honda, and Cyberdyne as part of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization's "Research and Development Project for an Unmanned Disaster Response System". It joins Mitsubishi's smaller nuclear inspection and maintenance robot, the MHI-MEISTeR.

Yesterday TEPCO began the delicate process of removing fuel rods from the damaged Fukushima reactor number 4. The company is using a remotely-operated crane to lift the rods out of their compartments and into water-tight containers for transport to a different storage pool on site. It's considered one of the most dangerous operations in the clean up, since the delicate rods (which are 4.5 m / 15 ft long and weigh 300 kg / 660 lb) are normally only moved by computer control.

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