As part of our tour of the Hanford site last Friday, the group of us got to enter the test tank and see their Foldtrack® robot in action.
This is basically an origami bulldozer.
The mission profile is that the machine must be insertable down a 12″ diameter pipe. Once through the pipe, it is deployed within a 75′ diameter tank filled with unprocessed nuclear waste, which has typically separated into liquids and nitrate/nitrite salts. The environment is immediately lethal to unprotected humans and rapidly lethal to protected humans, including radiation, corrosion and toxic threats. These tanks are being pumped out so the waste can be reprocessed for safe long-term storage before tank failure releases (more of) the waste into the environment. The problem solved by this device is breaking up the extensive salt deposits and slurrying them so that they can safely be pumped out.
We watched the machine fold from a Swiss army knife configuration into a the two-tracked bulldozer with a 24″ blade and an ultra-high pressure water spray system. The operators then put the machine through its paces. It is completely hydraulic, with no electrical systems at all.
Here is a video of part of the demo, with commentary track by Rick, our excellent tour guide.