4 December 2023

Misleading: Video shows a rescue robot in Japan, not Communist Party’s ‘corpse picker’

The Japanese rescue robot is called Robocue. The Tokyo Fire Department introduced it in 2009.


A tweet posted on June 24 claimed that China’s Communist Party developed a “corpse-pickup machine” with a video showing what appears to be an automated vehicle loading human bodies.

Many tweets have made similar claims (for example, tweets like this, this, and this) and the video has been viewed 56,500 times as of this writing.

However, the claim is misleading. The vehicle is a robot called Robocue. It was developed in Japan for disaster rescue operations.

Annie Lab analyzed the video footage and learned it consists of four clips. We then found the original of each clip.

The originals seem to have been recorded during some demonstrations by the Tokyo Fire Department — for example, at an open day public event at the Fire Technology and Safety Laboratory in 2012 and the Crisis Management Industry Show in 2014.

They showcased how a Robocue can lift objects with extended arms, load human bodies, and carry them around.

Annie Lab made a comparison video, juxtaposing the original with the one in the misleading tweets (below).

The staff seen in the viral video wears the same orange uniform and white helmet as in the original clip on YouTube. The prints on the staff’s gear read “Tokyo Fire Department” in both versions.

Comparison of the misleading tweet (right) with a YouTube clip (left) posted in 2014.

Robocue was launched in 2009. It is one of the rescue robots developed in Japan to assist victims of fire when it is difficult for firefighters to enter the scene. Tokyo Fire Department first deployed its predecessor in 1993.

Such robots are also designed to retrieve people near bomb sites and take them to safer areas. Reportedly, they could also be used to search for victims of earthquakes from damaged infrastructures such as buildings and bridges.

Robocue is equipped with infrared cameras that can be used as thermography and some sensors to detect the level of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and flammable gas, according to the demonstration video.

Nikkei Business reported in 2016 that the robot is operated manually from a remote control desk at a distance of 50 meters if wireless and 100 meters when connected with a cable. Robocue was also featured in this video produced by a Japanese kids’ magazine in the same year.

The Tokyo Fire Department also lists other robots used in disaster-affected areas on its website.