A Robot Dog Worth $150k is Being Put to Work in Aussie Mines

A Robot Dog Worth $150k is Being Put to Work in Aussie Mines
Contributor: Zachariah Kelly

Businesses in Australia can now order Spot the Dog, a robot built by Boston Dynamics, to help out around the place. The $150,000 robot dog is capable of a wide range of tasks, with a nimble frame, cameras and sensors, and it’s already on its way to Australian mine sites.

Coming from Boston in the United States, Spot is a quadruped robot that can be controlled with a remote, allowing you to fully move it around and see through its camera. The robot dog is being distributed in Australia by Sphere Drones, a company that specialises in drone tech.

“It’s there to really remove staff from unsafe environments and act as a conduit for staff on the ground here on construction sites,” Paris Cockinos, the CEO of Sphere Drones, told Nine News.

It’s a rugged robot with a customisable platform, capable of carrying up to 14 kg of equipment, and the ability to carry out things autonomously. Its average runtime is about 90 minutes without a payload, with a standby time of 180 minutes and a recharge time of 120 minutes. No long days for Spot, it’ll get tired quickly on the job.

Make no mistake – although it looks easy to push over and quite timid (kind of like a cyberpunk greyhound), it’s very sophisticated, capable of traversing curbs, stairs, grass and loose gravel, all without losing its balance, even if it’s knocked around. You can even order one of these robots with a big grabby arm attached, so that’s something.

What could the robot dog be used for in Australia?

Spot’s currently on track to work in Australian mines and in Queensland, helping out with biosecurity and shipping containers. Because it’s not a living thing, it’s a handy robot to have on-site.

Things that could pose a threat to a human, such as a cave-in or a biosecurity hazard, are of little concern to Spot, and if it breaks, it’s just a machine. The robot has actually been tested in a handful of different scenarios, such as in power stations, oil drilling and in nuclear facilities. These industries all have their own risks, but using a robot like Spot could save lives.

SA Power Networks was the first utility in Australia to start using the robot dog, and is currently training it up with geographical information and a high-resolution camera.

“Our investment in developing the technology to suit our needs will not only improve safety and efficiency across our network but is a strategic investment in emerging processes and technologies,” SA Power Networks said.

“I see robots as being the eyes, ears, nose, and other senses at our sites,” said Adam Ballard, the Facilities Technology Manager at BP. “If you send a human out, they can look at two or three things at a time. A robot like Spot can have several different sensors or cameras on it and process all that information at the same time.”

BP tested Spot in a practice environment in Texas, before moving the robot to a live facility near Chicago for a week-long deployment. The company is now confident in using it at an offshore oil rig.

The robot dog is also set to be tested by police and firefighters in Australia. To Nine News, Cockinos suggested that Spot could be used specifically for bomb squad operations, without risking human life, but it’s not hard to imagine this robot in a law enforcement role. That being said, while robotic dogs have been weaponised before, Boston Dynamics isn’t thrilled about its robo-puppy being armed.

On the firefighting side of things, Australia is prone to bushfires, so to have these robots prepared to fight our fires would be a great thing. 34 lives were lost during the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires, so to replace some of our frontline firefighters with robots would be welcome – as long as they do the job right, hence the testing.

Sphere Drones reckon it could be used in construction, manufacturing, mining, gas and oil, public Safety, utilities and research industries, but again, it’s early days.

Will you start to see Spot the Dog walking down the street? Probably not, but you might see it sometime soon in Australia.

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