Right after the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, I began jokingly mentioning to friends: “At least Japan has lots of robots that can help.” Then, as the days have worn on, and the tragedies mount, I started seeing comments on Facebook and blogs, asking: “Where are the robots!?”

Where are the robots? Japan is known for its cutting-edge robotics development and deployment — it’s even known for its development of emergency robots. In all of the coverage, I haven’t seen any discussion whatsoever about bringing in bots. After the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, Red Whittaker, of Carnegie Mellon, and later RedZone Robotics, developed robots specifically for nuclear emergency applications. If such robots exist (and can handle some of the tasks being currently undertaken by humans), then why are they needlessly cooking plant workers and JSDF (self-defense forces) if they don’t need to be?