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[IMTS 2022] We Met With Spot, Boston Dynamics’ Robot-Dog

[IMTS 2022] We Met With Spot, Boston Dynamics’ Robot-Dog
Spot at IMTS (C. Rustici)

Spot is a quadruped mobile robot designed to autonomously move around. It is currently being used on the manufacturing floor for inspection and detection missions, but it could have other industrial applications. At IMTS this year, we met with Nikolas Noel, Communications Director at Boston Dynamics, to find out more about Spot’s capabilities.

Spot has been on the market for about 2 years, and already several hundred units have been sold so far. Boston Dynamics science fiction style robot-dog can navigate challenging terrains, go up and down stairs, and even grab things. Customers doing enterprise asset management are showing a growing interest in Spot.

One of its most interesting applications in the manufacturing world is its ability to autonomously inspect hundreds of assets like pumps and compressors, a mission that is unfeasible by people.

Watch our video report from IMTS

Thermal Monitoring

In this simulation, Spot is on a thermal anomaly detection mission. Equipped with a PTZ camera with a 30X optical zoom and a thermal camera, Spot is making sure this motor is not overheating.

Nikolas Noel, Communications Director at Boston Dynamics tells us more about the demo they are showing at IMTS:

“So you can see there is a motor on top of this cabinet. Spot is taking thermal scans of it, looking for a potential problem in that motor. Then it comes back to its dock and uploads that data to a computer system. On a screen, you have a data stream. You can see over time how the temperature of the motor is changing and if there is a problem. You can set parameters that if it extends a certain temperature, the system will send an alarm to the maintenance team.”

Everything starts with programming the robot. You first have to take Spot through the mission once and show it the assets to scan so it can take pictures. Once all the data is collected, Spot can return to its dock and upload that data. It will then be able to repeat this same mission over again autonomously. 

The objective is to collect reliable and repeatable data to implement a better predictive maintenance strategy.

“Spot is ideal for facilities that have lots of motors, compressors, and pumps. Facilities that have hundreds of assets are a great use case for a robot because it’s not feasible to have a person walk around and check all of those assets.”

AI for ‘Athletic Intelligence’

Spot walks at about 3.5 miles per hour, the equivalent of human walking speed. Its battery runs for up to 90 minutes. The robot has a built-in system that allows it to avoid obstacles and people. The latest version of Spot has built-in ability to allow it to stop at crosswalks. Spot can also give visual and audio signals to mark its presence.

However, Spot cannot make any preventive decisions at the moment. The robot cannot stop an overheating motor, for example. It can only sound an alarm. 

“Spot is what we call ‘athletic intelligent’. Spot can make minor decisions, mostly related to its mobility. If it loses its balance, it can decide where to put its feet for example. The other thing that Spot has built-in is a feature called obstacle avoidance. There are cameras on each side of the robot. And as the robot approaches an object, a cabinet, or a person, it can tell how far it is away. It would not run into it, it would navigate around. What it can’t do though, is decide to go explore on its own. It’s following a very narrow set of programmed parameters.”

Boston Dynamics sell the basic robot. Ads-on such as thermal scanners, cameras, and lidar systems are available depending on the type of application. 

Many Industrial Applications

Spot can even be equipped with a robotic arm for fulfilling manipulation tasks like opening a door or turning a valve or gear.

In addition to thermal monitoring, Spot could have other industrial applications like visual gauge reading.

“A lot of facilities have lots of old analog gauges. And today, the only way to monitor those is for someone to navigate around the facility and take readings. Usually, teams don’t have time to do that or they are not doing it in an efficient way. So that’s another great use case for Spot. We are also starting to use Spot for leak detection in critical equipment.”

Hazardous environments are interesting terrain for using Spot. The robot is already being sent to nuclear facilities, for example, to do radiation mapping. More recently, it has been deployed in Ukraine to help clean up undetonated mines.

The sci-fi robot has also had its moment of glory. It was recently featured in a Star Wars spin-off as a droid. We’ve come full circle!!