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Honda’s little robot that won’t

TOKYO -- It’s a tantalizing idea: Send Honda’s pint-sized humanoid Asimo robot into the highly radioactive areas of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to help clean up the mess.

But the cancer impervious Asimo won’t be boldly going where no man dares to go. Honda Motor Co. is denying a Japanese press report that its biped creation will be re-engineered for nuclear duty.

The Asahi newspaper, a major Japanese daily, said earlier this month that Asimo -- which Honda has been tweaking since 2000 -- would have its legs chopped off and replaced with tank treads.

Honda is also planning to fit the robot with a more human-like arm that moves more smoothly to perform tasks like tightening bolts, the report added. And Asimo, which resembles a dwarf astronaut, would further help by beaming pictures of the dangerous areas back to its remote-control operators.

The idea would be to spare human workers dangerous exposure to hazardous radiation at Fukushima.

The plant was slammed by a tsunami spawned by Japan’s March 11 earthquake, and has been leaking radiation ever since. Japanese officials were criticized for using foreign-made robots, instead of domestically developed ones, to venture into the plant in the early days of the crisis.

But Asimo won’t be showing the flag in the nuke plant’s hot spots.

“Through our technical research and development, we are seeking various possibilities of robot technology to be useful to people and society, including disaster countermeasures, but we are not developing Asimo for Fukushima duty,” Honda spokesman Keitaro Yamamoto says.

Honda did not say why they aren’t considering Asimo for nuclear cleanup

But over its decade-long lifespan, the minibot has so far mostly mastered the art of serving tea, welcoming guests and running at a modest clip. If building it up to the task of fixing a nuclear power plant takes as long, I would hope -- for everbody’s sake -- that Fukushima is long cleaned up by then.

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