|Release: Sept. 14, 1995
RELEASE NO. 95-92
MEDIA INVITED TO SEPT. 21 DEMO
NASA Robot Arm To Aid Energy Dept. in Contamination
Using technology originally developed for space, engineers at
NASA Langley Research Center are building a remotely controlled
robot arm for the federal Department of Energy (DOE) to use in the
cleanup of contaminated sites.
News media are invited to attend a demonstration of the robot
arm at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, in Building 1293B, 4B West
Taylor St., at NASA Langley. The demonstration is being held for
the DOE, which will have a representative present who can answer
The idea of the robot arm is to avoid using people to do
hazardous waste cleanup, which would involve prolonged exposure to
contamination, said NASA Langley's Dr. Garnett Horner, the
researcher in charge of the project.
Langley's robot arm will serve as a "technology demonstration"
to determine if the device meets DOE requirements, and may or may
not see actual use in its present form, said Dennis Haley, robotics
decontamination and decommissioning coordinator for the energy
The robot arm would be one element in the DOE's plan to clean up
hazardous waste sites around the country.
"The DOE has so many facilities that they've shut down that
they're developing a toolbox to help them clean up those
facilities," said Horner, of Langley's Spacecraft Dynamics
The arm is designed to be mounted on a vehicle built by RedZone
Robotics in Pittsburgh and sent into contaminated sites while an
operator controls it from a DOE-built portable console a safe
distance away. The arm would be equipped with video cameras
transmitting images of the site to monitors viewed by the
The design of the robot arm is based on a variable geometry
truss concept originally developed for building deployable
structures in space. It uses metal beams in the shape of a
triangle, each attached to others with moveable joints powered by
hydraulic arms. The resulting structure is highly dexterous,
lightweight, and strong.
The 13-foot arm will be capable of lifting more than 2,000
pounds. Two smaller, crab-like dual arms built by Schilling
Development Inc. in California will be attached to the end of the
larger structure so that contaminated materials can be grasped.
Horner said NASA Langley was approached by Pacific Northwest
Laboratory, a contractor-run DOE facility, after having trouble
finding a company to build the robot arm.
"A survey of the industry showed that no one makes a long-reach,
dexterous manipulator arm," Horner said, "and no one wanted to
build one because it was too high-risk."
NASA and the DOE signed an interagency agreement, with Langley
contributing $75,000 to the project and the DOE another $90,000.
Engineers began designed the robot arm in June 1994. The Langley
robot arm will be integrated with the vehicle, portable console and
dual arms at the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge,
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