The Defense Ministry has developed a remote-controlled unmanned vehicle that can gather information and clear rubble at disaster sites that people cannot approach due to such incidents as a nuclear accident, volcanic eruption or biological or chemical terrorism.
The ministry has been moving forward with research based on the lessons learned from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which rescue workers could not get close to due to high radiation levels. The unmanned vehicle will be deployed to the Ground Self-Defense Force in fiscal 2019 or later.
The unmanned vehicle for clearing rubble and gathering information will be operated via radio control by GSDF personnel in a command and control vehicle that can be located as far as several kilometers away thanks to the use of an unmanned relay vehicle. If a wide area around a disaster scene is considered highly dangerous, the unmanned vehicle can be controlled from a location up to 20 kilometers away via satellite.
There are said to be few systems in the world for operating radio-controlled unmanned vehicles at disaster sites.
The ministry’s vehicle features continuous tracks like a tank, is equipped with hydraulic arms to remove rubble and has a device for leveling the ground. It also has such state-of-the-art equipment as a radiation counter, camera and laser range finder. Special paint has also been applied that makes it difficult for contaminants to stick to the vehicle body.
The government has earmarked ¥500 million in the fiscal 2016 budget for research into a system that can instantly create 3-D images of the landscape around the vehicle. By using 3-D images to get an understanding of its surroundings, the vehicle will be able to perform tasks faster, sources said. The unmanned vehicle to be deployed to the GSDF unit will likely be equipped with the 3-D image system.
The Ground Systems Research Center of the Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency and other organizations have completed a test model of the unmanned vehicle control system.
The ministry conducted a field experiment of the test model on Feb. 19 at the foot of Mt. Fugen in the Unzen mountains in Nagasaki Prefecture. The vehicle was radio-controlled to level ground and perform other tasks.