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Tech JR West to start using robot for track maintenance

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Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
West Japan Railway's new humanoid employee is a 12-metre-tall machine with distinctive features: coke bottle eyes, a crude Wall-E-like head, and large arms that can be equipped with blades or paintbrushes. Despite resembling an evil robot from 1980s sci-fi, this machine has a benign purpose: maintenance work on the company's rail network. Operated by a human in a cockpit on the accompanying truck, the machine "sees" through cameras and controls its powerful limbs and hands remotely. With a vertical reach of 12 meters, it can carry objects weighing up to 40 kg and perform tasks like painting or using a chainsaw.

West Japan Railway's new robot

An operator controls the machine using a goggle headset connected to cameras. When the user turns their head, the robot does the same. The weight of lifted objects can also be felt through control levers. Hasegawa Kazuaki, President of West Japan Railway, said, "Increasing the use of robots is important to meet the challenges of maintenance work and to ensure stable and sustainable railway operations." JR West says the robot could reduce maintenance workloads by about 30 per cent. It is also expected to improve safety when work is needed in hazardous environments, such as electric cables.

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