To help prevent emergencies from becoming disasters, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the Chiba Institute of Technology (CIT) have unveiled Sakura No. 2 – a remotely-operated, mobile, anti-explosive robot for use in gas-filled environments where a spark or heat source could set off an explosion or fire.

Since the days of the first coal mines, inflammable gases have been a major hazard. In underground tunnels, oil refineries, chemical plants, gas fields, and even the home, leaking gas has to be investigated with the greatest of care if a fiery tragedy is to be avoided. It's an ideal scenario for sending in a robot to do the dirty work, but it's also one where the robot in question needs to be a special design that won't instigate the very disaster it's trying to avoid.

Based on CIT's experience gained from building robots for dealing with nuclear power accidents, Sakura 2 is designed specifically to investigate gas-filled areas, do emergency inspections, and carry out minor maintenance. To enable this, it uses a pressure-resistant, anti-explosive casing to isolate its lithium-ion batteries, battery management system, electric motor, and controller.

The casing is pressurized to twice that of the outside environment, which keeps gas from leaking in and, in the event of the casing being cracked, air will leak out before gas can leak in. As added protection, if the casing is compromised, the power system goes offline.

Measuring 710 x 420 x 540 mm (28 x 16.5 x 21 in) and weighing 60 kg (132 lb), Sakura 2 has a top speed of 1.2 km/h (0.75 mph) and can handle a 45-degree slope using its two main crawlers and four sub crawlers. The onboard batteries can power it for 2.5 hours and it can operate wirelessly at a range of 100 m (330 ft) or 1,000 m (3,300 ft) with its fiber optic cable reel. Instruments include a pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) camera and gas detector.

Mitsubishi says that the Sakura 2 has already been passed by the Technology Institution of Industrial Safety (TIIS) in Japan and the partners plan to gain anti-explosive certification based on the European Union's ATEX Directive governing equipment in explosive environments. Future versions that have autonomous capacity and a robotic arm are also planned.