Edinburgh research centre adopts £60,000 robot to explore hazardous environments



A £60,000 robot is to be deployed at an Edinburgh research centre to study how the technology could be used to inspect hazardous environments.

The robot, which is believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland, is part of the Spot range created by Boston Dynamics.

The dog-like device was made famous on YouTube after it was filmed dancing, and is now being given the task to save lives and help cut carbon dioxide emissions through research at the National Robotarium at Heriot-Watt University.

The hardware will be used to carry out research into how robots can support humans in offshore energy inspection and disaster recovery.

The robot will be fitted with ‘telexistence’ technology, which lets humans experience an environment without being there, using devices like microphones and cameras to relay sound and video.

Spot robots are able to climb over rubble, walk up and down stairs and cope with hazards like rain and dust.

Children in the area covered by the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal are also being given the chance to name the robot, which will then visit the winning school.

Professor Yvan Petillot, professor of robotics and autonomous systems at Heriot-Watt University and co-academic lead of the National Robotarium, said: “In search and rescue operations or following accidents, Spot robots fitted with our 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.”

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Dr Sen Wang, robotics and autonomous systems lead at the National Robotarium, explained the robot was going to be fitted with lidar as opposed to radar to help build a picture of the surrounding environment while working on construction sites.

Wang 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,” he continued, adding: “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.”

The National Robotarium is a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. Its new building will open on the university’s Edinburgh campus next year.

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