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In the land of Gundam, the famous cartoon robot, the arrival of giant robots seems almost predestined. A giant humanoid robot has recently entered the world of Japanese railways. Mounted on a vehicle, its mission is to perform maintenance work at height, especially on power lines.

“In recent years, the shortage of labor has affected not only the railways, but also the maintenance work, which has become a social problem. We are working to improve the productivity and safety of mechanized maintenance work, ”reads the project presentation document on JR West’s website.

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The robot created by JR West. Photo: YouTube capture

It is a giant humanoid robot that JR West, a Japanese railway company, developed in collaboration with Nippon Signal.

Attached to a vehicle, this new metal “worker” has two arms equipped with clamps, as well as a telescopic head.

The aim is to make it work in high-altitude operations that still require human intervention; complex but also dangerous operations, such as intervention on high voltage lines.

“We aim to save about 30% of our workforce in these operations and eliminate work-related accidents, such as electric shocks and falls. The operator controls the robot in the cab of the vehicle, allowing it to work safely at height while on the ground “, explain the company’s representatives.

Remote control with a virtual reality headset

The way the robot is controlled is very reminiscent of some SF movies. The operator is in a cockpit, with the control levers in his hands and a virtual reality headset on his head.

Therefore, the robot moves in sync with the pilot, who tells the robot what to look for and how to move by simply moving his body. Haptic feedback on robot movements was also implemented:

“Operation and movement are linked in such a way that when the control lever is moved, the robot moves in the same way and the weight and recoil received by the robot are also transmitted back to the operator, so that intuitive operation is possible.” explains JR West.

The giant robot is controlled by an operator, who is in the cabin. Photo: JR West

The goal is for the sensation of the movements to be “instinctive”, as if the human operator were moving in place of the robot, in a certain way.

For now, it is just a prototype, which will not be put into operation immediately. There are still many tests to be performed, not least to determine exactly what kind of work this robot is capable of doing.

Its creators hope to put it into operation in the spring of 2024. It is currently dedicated to the railway industry, but it could be interesting for other sectors as well, if it performs its tasks correctly.

Here is a video with the robot running (film made by Reuters):

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