Va. Tech researchers make Spot go
Spot can’t dance.
Well, Spot could, but you’d have to pay extra for that.
“Spot out of the box cannot do all those tricks,” says Virginia Tech doctoral student Srijeet Halder.
Spot is Boston Robotics’ $74,500 four-legged walking platform, a star of viral dancing videos that also has the ability to navigate stairs, avoid obstacles and precisely follow programmed routes.
More than a little reminiscent of the robotic dog from Netflix’s “Black Mirror” sci-fi anthology series, Spot can also carry cameras, extend an arm and do onboard computations with the proper accessories.
In theory, Spot can gather information about progress at construction sites, something Kereshmeh Afsari, assistant professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, calls “a very mundane and time-consuming job” for humans.
In cooperation with Procon Consulting, a firm founded by two Tech graduates, Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School is testing Spot’s ability to do that job at three construction sites on its Blacksburg campus.
“There are two things happening,” explains professor Walid Thabet. “One [is] testing the technology that Spot can operate … but also testing how … [Spot] can maneuver over a busy, active construction site without hurting somebody or something.”
What’s also being tested is whether Spot’s capabilities justify its high five-figure price.
“That’s what we’re working on figuring out,” says Steve DeVito, Procon’s director of technology.
“The goal is to turn Spot out [like] a Roomba,” says Thabet, but for now, the robot needs a minder to help it get around job sites and make sure it’s operating as it should.
Halder, whose doctoral work is focused on making Spot more autonomous, compares the robot to early mobile phones, which started out with very limited capabilities,
but then “companies like Amazon [and] Facebook came up with solutions [that] increased the capabilities of that system. Spot is like that. It’s a very old kind of mobile phone. There will be other parties developing solutions to put on top of it and make it do many things that we cannot even imagine right now.”
DeVito sees the same potential.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this robot platform is that we don’t know what the marketplace will end up developing and what the value will be to the market yet,” he says.
But construction Spot won’t dance. Probably.
“For morale, it might be really important,” DeVito says. “So, we’ll think about it.”