When The Job's Too Dirty, Send In The Robots
It's a dirty job, but somebot's gotta do it... Popular mechanics has a geektastic article about the robots that squeeze, crawl and creep into the nastiest and most dangerous spots in the working world. Bonus: they have cool names like Salt Mantis and Possum.
The only way in or out of most of the tanks is through foot-wide pipes in their roofs, so engineers at Hanford use this robotic dozer, which opens into a string of pieces that fit through the inlets. Once inside, Foldtrack reassembles like a toy Transformer. The robot uses a 3000 psi water stream to blast at sludge from up to 20 ft. away. A remote driver directs the robot as it uses a dozer blade to push the waste toward a pump for transfer to safer, double-shelled tanks. Once its job is done, the $500,000 robot is sealed, forever, in the empty tank.
It used to be that human cleaners had to just guess if the radioactive area they were cleansing was, indeed, clean. Like a faithful retriever, the Possum rolls to the far, dark reaches of waste tanks, scooping up samples with its bulldozerlike blade so engineers can tell exactly what, and how much, is left inside. The Possum comes equipped with a camera so operators can locate target waste and control the device.