Meet Spot: a next-generation robo dog on campus construction sites

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 5:55 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia Tech researchers are unleashing a robot dog to help at construction sites.

His name is Spot.

He can’t really bark or chase his tail. He is a mobile robot dog used to help collect data at construction sites, and it’s being tested at three sites on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus.

Three capital construction sites the dog is serving are the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Community, Holden Hall and the Student Athlete Performance Center.

“It’s an interesting tool; I think it’s the beginning of robot technology being used in our industry, heavily on the commercial side,” said Julian Blazier, the Holden Hall construction project manager.

Within the job sites, construction management students and researchers can navigate Spot using a remote control.

He can capture 360-degree photos to fully document the construction process. Researchers say robots like Spot can help improve data collection by accessing hard-to-reach or hazardous sites.

“So our project looks into robotics, and we are actually evaluating the Spot robot that is manufactured by Boston Dynamics, to see how we can use a Spot to walk autonomously on the job site and take progress pictures,” said Kereshmeh Afsari, an assistant professor at the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the project’s principal investigator.

The robo pup also helps connect the university’s faculty and students with real on-the-ground experience, all while they study how the dog could work at construction sites.

“Spot is walking on the job site. Construction sites are dynamically changing every time that he goes to the job site. There is something new, there’s something changed. New walls have been added or new floors are placed, and so the robot can get confused, and that causes issues in terms of navigation, in terms of moving around the job site, understanding like localization of the robot,” said Afsari.

Construction managers say they never thought they’d use a robot dog, but they’re glad to have him barking up the right tree.

The research project is expected to be complete in fall 2021.

Procon Consulting partnered with Virginia Tech and is a sponsor of this robotics project.

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