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Release: Sept. 14, 1995

Michael Finneran
(804) 864-8150



NASA Robot Arm To Aid Energy Dept. in Contamination Cleanup

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 questions.

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 agency.

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 Branch.

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 operator.

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, Tenn.

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