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Property

Wall-crawling robots sound out loose tiles on Tokyo buildings

Replacing human inspectors cuts costs by 25% and improves safety

BlueCrawler taps on walls with a rod as engineers listen for the telltale sounds of loose tiles.

TOKYO -- Lightweight robots crawl over buildings' outer walls tapping on tiles in a safety inspection service recently launched by a unit of Tokyo Gas, shaving costs by a quarter compared to using human inspectors.

The roughly 20 kg BlueCrawler robot, measuring about 90 cm tall and 90 cm wide, is designed for buildings up to 20 stories high. It travels vertically on ropes lowered from roofs and is remotely controlled by an engineer.

The robot drags a rod across tiles or taps on individual ones. The sounds are picked up by a microphone to help the engineer pinpoint loose tiles.

Japanese building maintenance companies are struggling with both a labor shortage and rapid rise in older apartment blocks.

By the end of 2037, 3.52 million apartment buildings in Japan will be over 40 years old -- roughly five times as many as at the end of 2017, according to a land ministry forecast.

Tokyo Gas Engineering Solutions, a unit of the regional utility, developed BlueCrawler together with testing-equipment maker Tokyo Rigaku Kensa.

Inspecting building wall tiles typically requires manual checks by workers on fixed or suspended scaffolding -- a method that raises concerns of safety as well as privacy for residents.

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