Going to Fukushima

Leo Rover maps the radiation in the area in Fukushima, Japan.

April 19, 2021


Aleksandra Szczepaniak

Japan view of the mountain Fuji

There are places that are too dangerous for humans to go to but they still need to be examined. Fortunately, there are ways to achieve that without endangering anybody. After all, rovers are not built for nothing. One of such cases was checking the radiation level of an area in Fukushima. And this is where Leo Rover came in handy.

Leo Rover as a radiation mapping robot

The HH Wills Physics laboratory team from the University of Bristol decided to use Leo Rover to map the radiation levels in Fukushima, Japan. The researchers joined forces with ImiTec, a company that specializes in radiation mapping, and converted their Leo Rover so that they could use it for this very purpose in Fukushima.

Video by: HH Wills Physics Laboratory - University of Bristol

Experimental analysis

Prior to the actual analysis of radiation levels in the area in Fukushima, the experimental examination was conducted to compare the results of collecting contaminants between different robotic systems.

The key objective of the experiment was to create a simulated area with floor-based contamination and, then, investigate and compare the collection of contaminants picked up by the robots after leaving the designated terrain.

To perform the analysis of the radiation level, 3 types of robots were used: wheeled rover, tracked rover and hexapod robot. Naturally, Leo Rover was cast as the wheeled rover.

Field test procedure

During the experimental analysis, the robots were tested on the aforementioned specially prepared ground. A fluorescent powder served as a substitute for radioactive dust and a layer of it was evenly put onto the designated floor area.

Before each of the experimental runs, each robot was meticulously cleaned under UV light. Then, the robot was inserted into the investigated area to begin the contamination test. Each machine was then piloted in a straight line through the contaminated area and into the "clean" zone on the far side. Then, the robot was switched-off and cautiously removed from the exit area to be inspected in a laboratory. The whole procedure was then conducted in a second trial.

Radiation modelling

Another part of the experiment was mapping the radiation in the area which was carried out with the use of Geant4.

It’s a toolkit for the simulation of the passage of particles through matter. It can be used in areas such as high energy, accelerator and nuclear physics, or space and medical studies.

Thanks to Geant4, a user can input materials, geometry and define particle tracking and interaction detection parameters to obtain simulation data.

Radiation mapping feature

Radiation detection in Fukushima

As already mentioned, Leo Rover was customized and converted with an isotope analysis tool that allowed the team to map the radiation levels around the Fukushima grounds and look for radiation hot-spots on them. To detect radiation, the researchers from the University of Bristol used a Geiger counter which is one of the best-known instruments used for this purpose.

More information about the analysis of investigating the contamination pickup radiation process can be found in the following research paper.

Beneficial cooperation

The radiation analysis conducted in Fukushima was a great opportunity for both sides to cooperate – the team had the whole software and hardware for the measurements, and the only thing they needed was a functional ground robot, which would drive through the entire contaminated area. 

It’s worth pointing out that the software of Leo Rover runs on the Robot Operating System (ROS) which is known for easiness of both autonomy and semi-autonomy features implementation. What’s more, the robot is designed to be customized as one sees fit. It makes its usage highly versatile – with a wide array of different modules one can think of to attach to it, the user decides what kind of task the Leo Rover is to perform.

Leo Rover's possibilities

Wherever humans can’t go, robots will do it for them. Radiation mapping? Not a problem. As shown above, Leo Rover can handle the task just fine. Typical flying drones won’t perform this job in such a precise manner, not to mention checking soil radiation. Let’s face it – this task requires wheels on the ground. And this is only one of the multiple possibilities behind Leo Rover. Check out other ways the robot can be used here.

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