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Robot ‘dog’ is helping scientists understand hazardous environments

Written by on 2 June 2021

A four-legged robot “dog” is helping experts understand how humans working in hazardous environments such as oil platforms and refineries can be supported.

The £60,000 robot is being fitted with “telexistance” technology by scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

This can allow humans to experience an environment without being there – using devices like microphones and cameras to relay sounds and videos.

Believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland, the robot is part of the “Spot” range created by Boston Dynamics and has also hit the headlines by dancing on YouTube.

Scientists plan to use the hardware to undergo research into how robots can help humans in hazardous environments such as offshore energy inspection and disaster recovery.

School pupils with the robot dog that is helping scientists with research in Scotland Image: School pupils with the four-legged robot that is helping scientists with research in Scotland

Professor Yvan Petillot, professor of robotics and autonomous systems at Heriot-Watt University and co-academic lead of the National Robotarium, said: “Fitting this robot with our telexistence technology means we can carry out a range of experiments.

“We can test how the robot can help and support people working in hazardous environments, including oil and gas platforms and oil refineries.

“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.”

He added: “Robots of this design can climb over rubble, walk up and down stairs, and cope with hazards like dust and rain.

“These features will prove very useful as we develop more ways to ensure robots can help keep people safe and save companies money.”

Dr Sen Wang, an associate professor at Heriot-Watt University and robotics and autonomous systems lead at the National Robotarium, said experts will first look into how the new robot can support the construction industry.

“We are going to fit lidar to our robot, which is similar to radar but uses light instead of radio waves,” Dr Wang said.

“That will allow the robot to build up a picture of its surroundings while spotting obstacles like rubble on construction sites.”

He said the robot has the potential to “speed up the construction process, reduce costs of re-work, detect hazards, increase efficiency and improve quality control”.