Robots from the United States are getting ready to help Japanese workers cope with the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

QinetiQ North America has sent robots that are currently used by the military to Tokyo Electric Power Company. The robots will be able to go into areas that are too dangerous for people. The company has also sent Robotic Appliqué Kits, which can turn Bobcat loaders into remote controlled vehicles.

Ed Godere, senior vice president of unmanned systems at the Reston, Va.,-based company, said when the March 11 earthquake struck Japan, Qinetiq immediately asked how it could help. Unmanned vehicles are a good way to do that in a nuclear accident, he said, because it means fewer workers are exposed to ionizing radiation.

The robots the company sent are the TALON and Dragon Runner. The TALON robots are equipped with detection kits that can identify more than 7,500 environmental hazards including toxic industrial chemicals and most importantly for the nuclear power plant environment, radiation. The TALON also has temperature and air quality indicators. The TALON robots can provide night vision, sound and sensing capabilities from up to 1,000 meters away.

Dragon Runner robots are designed for use in small spaces. They can investigate rubble piles, for example, or small tunnels. The robot has thermal cameras and sound sensors that can provide data from up to 800 meters away.

The unmanned Bobcat loaders include seven cameras, night vision, thermal imagers, microphones, two-way radio systems and radiation sensors, and can be operated from more than a mile away to remove rubble and debris, dig up buried objects and carry smaller equipment.

Godere said the TALON robots first saw action in Iraq as an alternative to sending in live soldiers to deal with roadside bombs. Dragon Runners would be useful for doing radiation surveys, Godere said, and getting a better look at the damage in areas people cannot get to.

None of the robots has been used yet at the site, as the workers at TEPCO are still being trained how to use them. But Godere said that it is simple enough that deployment at Fukushima could happen relatively soon.