Robotic dogs occupy positions in security, inspection and public safety
A number of four-legged robot dogs have been deployed to the workforce for applications such as inspections, security and public safety, among others. Basically, these four-legged robots are mobility platforms that can be outfitted with different payloads depending on the type of information businesses want to collect.
Competition in the market for four-legged robots is intensifying. In the United States, Boston Dynamics has been developing its 70-pound Spot robot for about 10 years. Nearby, MIT has also been working on a smaller four-legged bot it calls “mini cheetah.” Ghost Robotics in Philadelphia makes robots for military applications, while overseas, Anybotics, based in Switzerland, makes a four-legged robot that it calls Anymal for industrial customers. And Chinese companies like Deep Robotics, Weilan, and Unitree Robotics are all building their own versions, although the latter two companies appear to be at least partially focused on the personal robotics market.
According to Allied Market Research, the global inspection robot market generated $ 940 million in 2020 and is expected to grow to nearly $ 14 billion by 2030. Take for example National Grid, an electric utility company and gas station serving customers in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. The company uses two robots made by Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics to perform routine inspections. The robots are equipped with LIDAR to help them navigate, as well as visual and thermal cameras to take detailed photos and thermal images of substation equipment. Prior to using Spot, most inspections at National Grid substations were performed by people. In some cases, substation operation would have to be temporarily stopped, as it would not have been safe for humans to do the inspections while the equipment was still operating.
Electricity and gas utility company National Grid is using a quadruped robot made by Boston Dynamics to perform an inspection at one of its Massachusetts substations.
CNBC | Madeleine Petrova
“We consider the investment in the robot to be a prudent investment because it improves the safe operating conditions for our employees,” said Dean Berlin, chief robotics engineer at National Grid. “The robot also has the advantage of being very reproducible. It collects the images from the same angle, from the same point of view each time, which is very useful as it allows us to compare the images collected at different times to each other to be able to see trends or changes. of behavior.”
Other Boston Dynamics users‘ The robot dog Spot includes pharmaceutical group Merck and BP, which use the robot to autonomously read gauges, monitor corrosion and measure methane on some of its oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas uses robot dogs made by Anybotics to inspect its offshore platforms. Another early adopter of Anymal from Anybotics is Brazilian mining company Vale. After completing the initial tests, Vale is now in the process of purchasing a robot to perform inspections and collect data on the condition of equipment at one of its mines. Vale says Anymal’s help with inspections saves its staff from having to go into potentially dangerous spaces, which are often filled with dust, noise and rotating pieces of equipment. BASF, a chemical company based in Germany, is also testing Anymal at one of its chemical plants, where the robot collects visual, thermal and acoustic data from BASF equipment. Spot and Anymal have also been deployed to construction sites and, in Anymal’s case, to marshalling yards to perform train inspections.
“These companies usually need to send their teams of educated people to collect data on the condition of their plant. And so their vision is with these types of robots, like Anymal, to automate some of these tasks by making sure that their people are safe and can save on some of the costs associated with actually transporting people to the site, ”says Péter Fankhauser, CEO and co-founder of Anybotics.
Anybotics Anymal robot collects data at a BASF factory.
Other use cases for quadrupedal robots are just beginning to gain ground. One of the most controversial has been the use of these robots for defense. In May 2021, the New York City Police Department announced it would stop testing one of Boston Dynamics’ Spot robots earlier than expected due to a backlash from the public.
“Spot’s role in public safety is to keep people out of harm’s way. The NYPD was trying to use Spot in exactly the way that Spot was going to be the point of communication with a potentially barricaded and armed suspect who had hostages. C ‘is a good use case for a robot,’ Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter told CNBC.
Although the robot from the NYPD incident was unarmed and was remotely controlled by a police officer, concerns about the arming of fully autonomous robots led to the formation of an initiative known as the “Campaign to stop the killer robots”. The coalition aims to ban the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons. His supporters include Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the late Stephen Hawking and hundreds of AI experts.
For Ghost Robotics, the defense market is the bread and butter of the company. The Philadelphia-based company says that of its 20+ customers, 90% are from the United States and allied foreign governments. One of those customers is the US Air Force, which uses Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60 robot to conduct security patrols around multiple bases. The Air Force says the robots can operate in a wide range of temperatures and are equipped with 14 sensors to help provide situational awareness. Ghost Robotics has also signed an agreement with the Defense Science and Technology Agency in Singapore. The agency said it will test and develop four-legged robot use cases for security, defense and humanitarian applications.
Technology. Sgt. John Rodiguez, Safety Team from the 321st Emergency Response Squadron, patrols a Ghost Robotics Vision 60 prototype in a simulated austere base during Exercise Advanced Battle Management System at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 3, 2020.
United States Air Force | Technology. Sgt. Cory D. Payne
Other use cases for robotic dogs are just starting to catch on. So far, Spot has been deployed to check the vital signs of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, take radiation measurements at nuclear power plants like Chernobyl, and remind people to maintain social distancing amid the pandemic. NASA has also sent teams of robotic dogs from Boston Dynamics to caves to see if they can one day be used to search for life on other planets. Farmers Insurance also said the company will deploy Spot alongside its claims staff to assess damage from hurricanes, tornadoes and other weather events.
Experts predict that the insurance industry alone will spend $ 1.7 billion on robotic systems in 2025. And other industries may follow suit. Amid the pandemic, a tight labor market is forcing many companies to turn to automation. A survey carried out in December 2020 by McKinsey showed that 51% of respondents in North America and Europe said they had increased their investments in new technologies in 2020, not counting remote working technologies.
“As a company, we’re really striving to embrace this artificial workforce, where humans and robots work side by side to solve tough problems,” Fankhauser said. “And our vision is that people shouldn’t be doing hazardous work in places where they really shouldn’t be. So our vision within the [next] 10 years it has become standard to hire a person or a robot to do a certain job. “
But they are not cheap. Anybotics’ Anymal costs $ 150,000, but the company says that includes the full battery life platform, which comes with LIDAR and a docking station. Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60 robot also costs around $ 150,000. Boston Dynamic’s entry-level “explorer” Spot robot starts at $ 75,000, but does not include a self-charging docking station, and its stand-alone capabilities are more limited than the more expensive “business model” of the company. Payloads are also not included in the price. Take the National Grid robot for example. While National Grid would not share with CNBC how much it paid for the robot, only the thermal cameras and LIDAR it uses alone cost over $ 57,000. Boston Dynamics claims to have sold several hundred Spot robots so far, while Anybotics has sold less than 100.
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