Japan’s spider-robots could soon swarm the sewers to tackle ‘labor shortage’

The spider-like robots employ sensors and LED spotlights to scan its surroundings.
Baba Tamim
SPD1, spider-like robots work in sync with multiple robots.
SPD1, spider-like robot can also work in sync with multiple bots.

Facebook/tmsuk 

A Japanese robotics firm has created robots to analyze and sanitize the country's drainage system amid a "labor shortage" in the country.

SPD1, a spider-like robot that works in sync with multiple robots, is claimed to serve as an "efficient solution to chronic labor shortage and sewage inspection work," according to tmusk, a robotic solutions company. 

"The lifespan (of sewer pipes) is 50 years, and there are many sewer pipes reaching the end of that lifespan," Yuji Kawakubo, tmsuk CEO, told South China Morning Post (SCMP) in an interview on Wednesday. 

"There is an overwhelming shortage of manpower to inspect such pipes, and the number of sewer pipes that have not been inspected is increasing."

According to a rough translation of the company's Facebook post last month, the SPD1 multi-legged prototype, a walking robot, was developed at the request of a road and sewage pipe maintenance company to help improve the efficiency of sewage inspection work.

The company claims that all Japanese-made walking pipe survey robots are a fresh attempt to address the wide range of needs that are anticipated to continue to grow in the future.

The country, which is regarded as having an exceptionally disciplined demeanor, needed innovative solutions to cope with the deterioration of sewer lines that has been unfolding since the 1970s.

A spider-robot for sewers - SPD1

Japan’s spider-robots could soon swarm the sewers to tackle ‘labor shortage’
Spider-robots

The device, which is currently sized at 21 x 25 x 28 centimeters (8.3 x 9.8 x 11 inches) and weighs roughly 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds), is intended to fit through pipelines that are too small for humans to explore.

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A connection running from the robot to its human operator, who uses a game controller, allows remote power and control of the robot.

The operator watches live video from the SPD1's onboard camera, which can be either a Raspberry Pi Camera Module 2 or an XDV360 360-degree camera. 

The user could pan and tilt on their touchscreen rather than physically panning and tilting the actual camera.

The robot employs sensors and LED spotlights, which it refers to as its "spider eyes," to scan its surroundings.

Early versions of the SPD1 used wheels to move, according to Kawakubo. 

However, the uneven, rocky topography of sewer systems quickly proved to be too challenging. 

During testing, the eight legs that were used in place of the wheel arrangement gave the remote-controlled machines far more mobility and reach.

While SPD1 may be used purely for inspections, tmusk also sees three of the robots physically linked to one another by a tether and operate as a team, overcoming various challenges.

In sync, the first robot would explore the pipe, the second would spot the parts that needed fixing, and the third bot would handle the fixing with a robotic arm containing a tool, according to the firm. 

SPD1 to soon go commercial

Following a "sewage pipe survey site" demonstration, tmsuk intends to announce the product's commercial availability. 

The firm anticipates that the SPD1 can enter the market soon after April 2024, with further versions having the ability to perform minor repairs in addition to their existing monitoring and examination functions.

With some forecasts anticipating 6.4 million work vacancies by the end of the decade, companies like tmsuk are offering imaginative alternatives to hard-to-fill occupations like those involving sewer repairs.