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Learning new tricks – robot dog works on oil rig

Boston Dynamics’ dog-like robot “Spot” is learning new tricks – learning the ropes on an oil rig nearly 190 miles (305 km) offshore in the Gulf of Mexico operated by BP.

London-based BP bought Spot to augment its operations and is programming the robot to read gauges, look for corrosion, map out the facility and even sniff out methane on its Mad Dog rig.

BP’s facilities technology manager, Adam Ballard, said having the robot perform those tasks reduces the number of people on the rig, which is safer, and frees up personnel to do other work.

“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,” Ballard said.

“What we’re doing with Spot, is really trying to replicate that observation piece so that I don’t need necessarily an operator to go do that. I can have an operator actually review that information from a central location.”

Spot has an integrated gas sensor that is programmed to shut the robot down if it detects a methane leak – which has not happened on the Mad Dog rig.

Ballard said that readings from Spot’s sensors could help him plan jobs, preventing some personnel from having to fly in a helicopter from land.

“We believe a lot of that up-front, remote work preparation can be done with a remotely-controlled robot to go out with LIDAR or basically being able to measure areas, being able to pan, tilt, zoom and really understand the entire area in real conditions, real time,” Ballard said.

Going forward, BP hopes to expand Spot’s data gathering capability to augment areas where humans are limited.

“We’ve got multispectral imaging that basically you can see many bands across that spectrum, and that the idea there is to throw something like that on Spot, or a robot similar, to be able to see things that the human eye can’t see.”

Boston Dynamics does not release terms of its sales agreements with companies, but the Spot robot model can be purchased for $74,500 USD.

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