JR West unveils a giant robot used for railway maintenance

West Japan Railways (JR West), one of six companies that make up Japan Railways Group, has unveiled a giant humanoid robot capable of working on a range of maintenance task on its lines, NHK reports.

The robot, which is described as a “multifunctional railway heavy machinery for maintenance of railway equipment”, is based on a prototype used by JR West that has already been tested.

The device has two arms that can carry objects weighing up to 40 kilograms (88 lb). It also has a reach of as high as 12 metres (40ft).

The robot will also be used to cut down trees or remove other obstacles, paint infrastructure, and replace or repair signalling hardware.

How does the JR West robot work

The large machine is mounted on a truck, which can drive on rails. An operator controls the machine from inside the truck using a goggle headset connected to cameras.

When the operator turns their head, the robot does the same. The weight of lifted objects can also be felt through control levers.

The new robot has been developed in partnership with Jinki Ittai Co, a robotics technology developer, and Nippon Signal Co, an IT and electricals in infrastructure firm.

“In the future, we hope to use machines for all kinds of maintenance operations of our infrastructure,” and this should provide a case study for how to deal with the labour shortage, company president Kazuaki Hasegawa told in a recent press conference.

JR West says the new equipment will improve safety, with fewer people having to climb onto overhead catenary lines, and workforce reductions of at least 30% for most tasks.

“Mechanization will contribute greatly to the goal of eliminating workplace accidents caused by electric shock or falls, and will also lead to improved safety,” the company explained.

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