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Boston Dynamics’ four-legged canine-inspired Spot is by no means an old dog, but that doesn’t mean it can’t learn new tricks.
The 55-pound robot, unveiled in 2016, has boarded BP’s Mad Dog oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, where it will master tasks like reading gauges, finding corrosion, mapping the facility, and sniffing out methane, according to Reuters.
Earlier this year, BP announced its objective to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, while boosting employee safety and operational efficiency. One way to achieve that goal is to deploy robots, which can navigate hazardous situations in ways humans can’t (or shouldn’t).
“Several hours a day, several operators will walk the facility; read gauges; listen for noise that doesn’t sound right; look out at the horizon for anomalies, boats that may not be caught on radar; look for sheens,” BP facility technology manager Adam Ballard explained. “What we’re doing with Spot is really trying to replicate that observation piece,” he told Reuters.
Four legs, an attached arm, and a remote-controlled body allow the droid to trot around, climb stairs, open doors, pick up objects, and even dance. In September 2019, Boston Dynamics began leasing Spot to select enterprises on a trial basis; by June 2020, the robotics firm was selling its cyborg dog commercially for $74,500.
I see robots as being the eyes, ears, nose, and other senses at our sites,” Ballard said. “It’s about being able to use sensors to have that real-time understanding, and to get the context of the facility … while minimizing the exposure of people to these potentially dangerous environments.”
Unlike a human, who has a limited capacity for collecting data, remote-controlled Spot can pan, tilt, zoom, and “really understand the entire area in real conditions, real time,” Ballard added.
The robot will live and work on the rig for at least three months, allowing crew members to acclimatize and hopefully see Spot “less like a toy and more like a tool,” Ballard said. This trial also gives BP time to practice being robot parents, learning how to tune the droid to various operations and determine its best uses.
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