Scotland's first Boston Dynamics Spot robot

Robot ‘dog’ could help experts gauge hazardous environments

Image credit: Heriot-Watt University/PA Wire

Scottish scientists have utilised a four-legged robot ‘dog’ as part of research investigating how the technology can help people working in hazardous environments.

Experts at the National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, are fitting the robot with “telexistence” technology, which lets humans experience an environment without being there, using devices such as microphones and cameras to relay sounds and video.

The £60,000 robot is part of the “Spot” range created by robotics design company Boston Dynamics. The scientists will use the telexistence hardware to carry out research into how robots can support humans in hazardous environments such as offshore energy inspection and disaster recovery.

“Fitting this robot with our telexistence technology means we can carry out a range of experiments,” said Professor Yvan Petillot, a professor of robotics and autonomous systems at Heriot-Watt University and co-academic lead of the National Robotarium. “We can test how the robot can help and support people working in hazardous environments, including oil and gas platforms and oil refineries.”

Petillot added that in search and rescue operations, Spot robots filled with their sensors could monitor a casualty’s vital signs and transmit images and sounds back to a hospital, allowing doctors to offer advice on treatment or decide when it’s safe to move a patient.

“Robots of this design can climb over rubble, walk up and down stairs, and cope with hazards like dust and rain,” he continued. “These features will prove very useful as we develop more ways to ensure robots can help keep people safe and save companies money.”

Undated handout photo issued by Heriot-Watt University of Prof Yvan Petillot with a four-legged robot "dog" which is helping scientists in Scotland research how the machines can help people working in hazardous environments such as oil platforms and refineries, on Blackford Hill, Edinburgh.

Professor Yvan Petillot with a four-legged robot "dog"

Image credit: Heriot-Watt University/PA Wire

Through a project with the ORCA Hub, the first application for their research with the robot will help support the construction industry, according to Dr Sen Wang, an associate professor at Heriot-Watt University.

He said the team plans to fit lidar to its robot – a technology similar to radar but uses light instead of radio waves. This will allow the robot to build up a picture of its surroundings while spotting obstacles such as rubble on construction sites, he explained.

“Our Spot, however, is unique,” he said. “We have set it up to be a moving data collector and data centre, equipped with advanced telepresence solutions. When we deploy it on construction sites, it will collect and measure in real-time, relaying the data to multiple experts at once, all around the world. This means construction companies, regardless of their location, can benefit from worldwide expertise.”

According to Wang, using Spot in this way has the potential to speed up the construction process, reduce costs of re-work, detect hazards, increase efficiency, and improve quality control on such sites.

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