Huge body, sturdy robotic arms, blue body paint… Is this look familiar? On closer inspection, this Gundam (Japanese Anime) looking humanoid robot is not a mobile suit, but a railway repairman.
This is a multifunctional railway heavy equipment combining heavy equipment robots and railway construction vehicles, jointly developed by West Japan Railway Company, Man-Machine Co., Ltd. and Nippon Signal Co., Ltd. Both to improve productivity and safety, and to address the shortage of labor for rail infrastructure maintenance.
Multifunctional railway heavy equipment is a specially supported rail car that runs around the track system. The fuselage of the humanoid robot is mounted on the end of the boom, and the other end of the boom has an operator in the driver’s seat.
After the operator puts on the VR headset, the footage captured by the robot’s head lens will be instantly displayed in the VR device. If the operator’s head changes direction, the robot’s camera also rotates (the head is a bit like Wall-E), as if the operator were watching.
Viertual Reality Headset for a better and Safer Operation
In addition to the instant synchronization of the visual screen, the movements of the operator and the robot are also instantly linked. The operator under the boom can manipulate the robot’s arm to move and grab through the controller.
Since it is a humanoid robot, its movements are very similar to those of humans. In addition, the weight and recoil felt by the robot will be fed back to the operator. The intuitive operation experience looks like a human maintenance operator working at a high altitude. It means that the operator can get started quickly and can be more handy.
The show saw robots like people holding up brushes to maintain and clean rails. Using the “hand” to grasp the tool is still flexible, but due to the characteristics of the robot, the movement is not fast.
Although the shape has a Gundam style, this way of operating the robot with the help of VR linkage seems to be more like the operation of the robot warrior in “Pacific Rim”.
It doesn’t matter which style of robot it is, what matters is that this humanoid robot is of great benefit to railway maintenance work. There is no need to bear the danger of climbing into the sky, and the maintenance personnel can operate the robot on the ground and can also work at high altitudes.
With machine repairers, various equipment installed at high places can be handled. After the heavy work is mechanized, part of the labor can be saved and efficiency can be improved.
Robots perform high-altitude operations, which can reduce the probability of accidents such as electric shock or collision when human maintenance personnel perform operations, and greatly improve work safety.
According to the development plan, this type of multifunctional railway heavy equipment will be tested with a prototype in April 2022, and may reach the practical target and introduce it on the sales line in the spring of 2024. It may not be long before we see more “machine mechanics” working on Japanese railways.