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See Spot work!

I have a long-time fascination with robotics, dating back to my grad school days. Plus I’m a dog person. When combined, these turn into an interest in Spot, the robotic dog from Boston Dynamics. I first blogged about Spot a couple of years ago (See Spot run!). At that point, Spot was in pre-release, with the promise of commercial availability in 2019. Well, as of last fall, Spot is out and about, and after years of showing us how it could run up and down stairs and perform some pet tricks, Spot is now being put to work.

Aker BP, an oil and gas firm, is one of the first companies to deploy the four-legged robot. They’re starting to use Spot to patrol a rig in a Norwegian Sea field. Spot will be checking for gas leaks and other potential problems, and alert the company if any follow-up is needed. HoloBuilder, a construction firm, has Spot patrolling construction sites, taking 360-degree images and letting engineers monitor work progress. HoloBuilder is also using machine vision AI to analyze the images. The State Police in Massachusetts, during a trial period, attached Spot to their bomb squad, and actually used it in a couple of operations.

Boston Dynamics doesn’t give away a lot of the tech-specs on its website, but they do reveal that Spot has on-board processing (love to know what’s in their system-on module) and an on-board camera that captures spherical images (love to know what’s the tech in that camera!), with an optional pan-tilt-zoom camera. Spot has and ethernet port and multiple power options (12/24V at 150W; 5V at 10W), and can be integrated with third-party sensors and other payloads. Because it operates in some pretty rugged terrain – construction sites, oil rigs, mines… – the electronics are sealed for dust and water resistance.

There’s also a Spot Software Development Kit (SDK) that includes an “accessible GRPC-based API and Python client library.” The SDK “enables your application to command poses and velocities, configure payloads, and access robot perception and payload data.” An additional SDK is in beta. This will support “access to mapping, navigation, and mission editing.”

I would just love to be able to get my hands on Spot, but they say it will be retailing for the price of a car. Guess I’ll have to be content with reading about, and looking at videos of, Spot at work. And with patting the heads of my own puppers. Somethings robotics will never replace!


Information sources for this post: Technology Review, Fast Company, and Wired. Technical information on Spot is from Boston Dynamics.