In 2019, a video posted on Boston Dynamics’ official YouTube page took the Internet by storm.
The two-minute reel revealed the culmination of decades of technical ingenuity; YouTube commenters described what they saw as something out of a science fiction novel.
In the video, a bright yellow robot, introduced as Spot the Robot Dog, was revealed to the masses as a tool for the modern world. Boston Dynamics promised that Spot would be fully customizable, offering everything from specialized sensors and software to the ability to transport payloads, and anything else a user could think of, with the help of its programmable API.
A global pandemic later, and the world has changed before our eyes, with the introduction of Spot into increasingly more everyday scenarios. The robo-dog has seen its real-world applications extend to various sectors including agriculture, mining, and notably, construction. In this sector, a unique opportunity arose in November 2021 for two of North America’s construction giants: PCL and Pomerleau.
At a Cadillac Fairview location in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Spot made an appearance as part of a multi-stakeholder partnership between PCL, Pomerleau, Industrial IoT company Latium Technologies, Intel, and Microsoft. With innovation and productivity in mind, Spot set out to test the limits of what an AI powered quadruped robot could do, not only for this construction site, but also for the broader implications of construction.
As Mark Bryant, Latium Technologies chief executive officer, put it, the goal of the experiment was to find out how the use of robotics can drive construction and increase efficiency in the workplace.
To do so, Latium’s team, using Intel’s processing power, equipped Spot with multiple payloads, including environmental sensors that measure factors such as temperature and light, as well as a laser scanner and a 360-degree camera.
“When you marry [all of these payloads] Spot can effectively do three things simultaneously that one human can’t. We discovered that on repetitive tasks it can be fantastic,” Bryant said.
By gathering information from each of these tools, Spot was able to autonomously scutter about the entire facility with remarkable precision and provide seamless assistance wherever it was needed. Given the physical strain of a person moving from one place to another across multiple flights of stairs each day, Bryant noted that Spot not only eased the manual workload and made the site safer, but it also helped make the work of others on site, such as project managers and general superintendents, easier as well.
The benefits that this ultimately provides for a sector such as construction are certainly not lost on the team involved. Denis Gaudreault, Intel Canada country manager, says that Spot is just one component of the push towards a rapidly increasing level of available information and data that is indispensable for the further development of the sector.
“If you go around the construction site, you may see with your eyes what’s going on related to the advancement of the work,” Gaudreault said. He notes that Spot isn’t limited to just sharing what it sees. Spot can also share information about the materials used or the security of the facility, or even the environmental conditions at the facility such as temperature and humidity.
The data that Spot gathers also proves valuable in helping to optimize other factors, including both the supply chain process and sending other information directly to vendors. Gaudreault notes, however, that there is still much to learn about the true extent to which the data can be used. He describes the process of using the data to create a new revenue stream as still to be determined, with some industries finding it easier than others to make the leap.
Bryant also commented on the possibilities that Spot, and robotics as a whole, offer in construction.
“The best analogy I can give would be that robots at the workplace for construction today are akin to where drones were six or seven years ago,” he said. “Certainly Spot is a very unique robotic piece of equipment by the nature of what it does and how it looks and acts…but there’s other robotics that I think are going to enter the space that already exist today.”