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Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot dog learns new tricks for inspection tasks

Professional Engineering

The Boston Dynamics Spot robot, with additional payload on its back (Credit: Boston Dynamics)
The Boston Dynamics Spot robot, with additional payload on its back (Credit: Boston Dynamics)

Spot, the dog-like robot developed by Boston Dynamics, can now open doors autonomously and react to moving obstacles.

The hardware and software updates, part of wider upgrades aimed at boosting the bot’s autonomous inspection capabilities, were announced today (7 June) by the Massachusetts company.

Designed for both hazardous and routine robotic inspections, the machine is already used by clients such as National Grid and the UK Atomic Energy Authority for maintenance and inspection. More than 1,000 robots are deployed in over 35 countries, the Boston Dynamics announcement said, tackling some of industry’s “toughest, most dangerous tasks”. 

Spot will now be able to use the modular Spot Arm to open doors during autonomous Autowalk missions, rather than needing a remote human operator to take over. The beta feature is designed to open up new inspection routes, letting the bot move from room to room, even in a facility with no human workers.

Boston Dynamics also updated the bot’s gait for safer movement on slippery surfaces. In its most stable gait, it will now ‘crawl’ by moving one leg at a time and staying close to the ground. In normal walk mode, it is reportedly better at catching itself if it slips.

Changes to the hardware include the addition of safety lights, a buzzer, and a speaker, with pre-configured lights and tones to alert human workers to the actions it is performing, and an emergency stop button. Using a payload that includes lidar, Spot can also detect and react to moving objects, by signalling, keeping a safe distance, and exercising increased caution.

New ‘automated inspection solutions’ are aimed at making industrial tasks easier, such as thermal monitoring, acoustic leak detection, and gauge reading.

“A major part of technology adoption is ease of use. We want any customer to be able to have Spot working on site in just a few hours and start to generate value in that first week of deployment,” the announcement said.

“Spot’s latest software release now has multiple, simultaneous inspection types built into the platform and an updated inspection configuration workflow that provides a seamless user experience that’s quick and easy for everyone.”

The new thermal inspection workflow can trigger notifications through the Scout mission software when equipment exceeds preset temperatures. Spot can also capture images of key areas, while inspection review lets users view and compare temperatures across the image.

A gauge-reading computer vision add-on from partner Levatas enables inspection of analogue gauges. Those readings are then monitored through Scout, which also triggers alerts for ‘abnormal’ readings.

An additional payload, known as the Fluke SV600, also enables acoustic inspections. These can detect and locate otherwise unheard or unseen air and gas leaks, or changes in sound signatures, providing early warnings that allow pre-emptive work.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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