Could cognitive robots be the solution to disaster zones?

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 23 August 2011



(2011), "Could cognitive robots be the solution to disaster zones?", Industrial Robot, Vol. 38 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Could cognitive robots be the solution to disaster zones?

Article Type: News From: Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Volume 38, Issue 5

A total of 400 European robot experts met in Sweden and high on the agenda was whether disasters like Fukushima could be solved with robots. Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes, but more surprising was how.

Dr Vincent C. Müller, the research co-ordinator for a research project called EUCogII decried the current fragmentation in the robotics research agenda and told his audience, composed of both academics and industry, that “we need to step back and consider the bigger picture”. He believes cognitive robots whose thought processes would be akin to artificial intelligence, are not only feasible, but hold the key to solving situations like Fukushima, whose unfolding events cannot be predicted.

“Our current robots are like laptops – they either work or they don’t”, said Dr Müller, Associate Professor of Philosophy at The American College of Thessaloniki. “We need to focus on developing intelligent, flexible, biologically inspired alternatives. Robots of the future need to be less like laptops and more like cockroaches, adaptive and low power”.

“Sequences of events like Fukushima are impossible to predict”, he said. “The reactors shut down as planned, but when the electricity supply went down, nothing happened and there was nothing in the manual about this eventuality. As we will never be able to achieve 100% accurate predictions of the future, we must develop intelligent, robust, autonomous systems that will keep on working in less than ideal situations. The ramifications will be huge, not just for the nuclear sector, but for mining, space and the oil and gas industries”.

While teams like EUCog may be some years away from developing fully functioning cognitive robots, other speakers made clear that the Japanese authorities’ action plan would have benefitted enormously from a truly accurate understanding of events unfolding within the troubled plant. The solution to this, a branch of robotics known as surveillance, has existed for many years and is now both mature and effective. Best known is the radiation resistant, snake arm robot developed by OC Robotics.

Geoff Pegman, MD of RU Robots, commented: “Europe has a world leader position in both intervention and cognitive robots, partly thanks to funding from the EU. In fact, France and Germany, both nations dependent on nuclear power, have robotically equipped response teams and the Japanese should clearly have sought help from these specialists, to whom robots are not seen as futuristic, but standard kit. In fact, one wonders why all nuclear nations do not maintain such a capability”.

While radiation levels rise in Japan and the incident is uprated to the maximum seven, many will be surprised to learn that we already have the robotic know-how right now. With the further development of the emerging technology of cognitive robots, especially when allied to teleoperation, future disaster zones will be able to be tackled swiftly and efficiently, saving lives around the world.

European Robotics Forum, was held in Västerås, Sweden and was the largest ever gathering of European researchers from academia and industry. The European Commission values the importance of robotics for the future of Europe and has spent €536 million in the period 2007-2012 on cognition and robotics-related research, to ensure leadership within the technology.

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