Currently, when the rubble at disaster sites is being moved, ordinary construction equipment is used. Scientists at several Japanese universities, however, are working on something more task-specific. They've created a remote-control robotic excavator, that is said to offer "drastically improved operability and mobility."

Given that the machine may be performing some fairly fine manipulations, it is equipped with a force feedback system. This measures oil pressure in the hydraulic arm's cylinders, and reproduces that resistance in the user's controls. Additionally, high-frequency vibrations are detected by a sensor in the forearm, and are likewise mirrored for the operator.

Situational awareness is a big factor at disaster sites, so the machine is also equipped with a remote-control camera-toting tethered quadcopter drone. Power is supplied to the aircraft through its tether, so long flights are possible.

There are additionally four wide-angle video cameras mounted high on the excavator, along with a far-infrared camera – the latter lets the user see what's around the robot even in low-visibility conditions such as fog.

The excavator was created in a collaboration between Osaka University, Kobe University, Tohoku University, Tohoku University, The University of Tokyo, and Tokyo Institute of Technology. It was made as part of the Tough Robotics Challenge, an initiative of Japan's Impulsing Paradigm Challenge through Disruptive Technologies (ImPACT) Program.

A version with two arms is reportedly now in the works.

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