Spider robots could soon be swarming Japan’s aging sewer systems

Spider robots could soon be swarming Japan’s aging sewer systems
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What’s worse: getting trapped in a dark, dank sewer system or coming face-to-face to an army of robotic spiders. The correct answer is to get trapped in a dark, decaying sewer system and meet an army of robotic spiders.

[Related: This spooky robot uses inflatable tentacles to grab delicate items. ]

The latter half of this scenario happens if Japan’s robotics manufacturer Tmsuk has its say. As a new video report courtesy of South China Morning Post detailed earlier this week, the company recently unveiled its line of SPD1 prototypes–small robots powered by Raspberry Pi CPUs that creep along upon eight legs modeled after its arachnid inspirations. The little spider-bots also have 360-degree vision thanks to an array of very spidey-like camera eyes.

In Tmsuk’s video below, the tiny machines are in action. The company seems to be leaning towards the spookiness in the promotional material.

YouTube video

SPD1 comes as Japan continues to reckon with a labor shortage affecting over half of the country’s industries, including public utility maintenance. With some projections estimating 6.4 million job vacancies by decade’s end, businesses like Tmsuk are offering creative, if arguably off-putting, alternatives to hard-to-fill positions such as those involving sewer repairs.

“The lifespan (of sewer pipes) is 50 years, and there are many sewer pipes reaching the end of that lifespan,” Tmsuk CEO Yuji Kawakubo explained in the SCMP video interview. “There is an overwhelming shortage in manpower to inspect such pipes, and there is an increasing number of uninspected sewer pipes

[Related: Meet the world’s speediest laundry-folding robot. ]

Kawakubo recalled that the SPD1’s early iterations relied on wheels to move. It was too difficult to move in the rocky and unstable sewer system terrain. The remote-controlled devices were able to move and reach much more easily by replacing the wheel system with eight legs. Tmsuk hopes the SPD1 can hit the market sometime soon after April 2024, with future editions able to handle small repair jobs on top of their current surveillance and examination capabilities.

If a swarming of SPD1 bots crawling under your home isn’t scary enough, it’s worth noting this isn’t the only spider robot currently in development. Last year, a UK government-funded company appropriately named Pipebots introduced its own designs for sewer repairing automatic arachnids. Like the SPD1, Pipebots hopes its products can begin traipsing through the muck and mire sometime in 2024.

Andrew Paul

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