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Spot goes to work on the decommissioning team at Fukushima plant

Over a decade after Japan's catastrophic 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the arduous task of decommissioning the contaminated plant continues. To accelerate progress in dangerous radioactive areas off-limits to humans, the cleanup crew has enlisted an unlikely ally - Spot, the versatile quadruped robot from Boston Dynamics.

Fukushima's most hazardous zones exceed lifetime radiation limits, preventing direct human access. Specialist robots are needed to gather data to plan decontamination operations. Spot's unique mobility and manipulation abilities have proven uniquely suited to surveying damage and collecting samples.

Since 2022, Spot has been deployed to traverse difficult terrain, open doors, take videos, measure radiation, and grab debris samples. This information is helping the team safely map areas and strategize nuclear waste removal.

Extensive testing at Los Alamos National Lab confirmed Spot can withstand extreme radiation without disruption, thanks to its mechanical design. The robot is remotely controlled from afar, with autonomous capabilities to efficiently navigate obstacles.

Spot's lidar scanning constructs 3D maps of the plant's interiors, while its arm places sensors and gathers samples. Its door-opening skills quickly access off-limit areas far faster than other robots.

Early deployments have already provided valuable insights, like discovering a contaminated room through broken windows. But Spot's work has only just begun.

"There's much more for Spot to do," says Boston Dynamics' Brad Bonn. "It could help monitor decommissioning progress with scans, clear debris for larger robots, and more."

A decade on, Fukushima remains a hazard. To accelerate clean-up, advanced robots like Spot are proving essential for gleaning insights needed to plan recovery efforts in the most irradiated areas.

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