The robotic pooch from Boston Dynamics’ viral videos is ready for real work
Spot got its first assignment, fittingly, in the Silicon Valley area—surveying construction of the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). HoloBuilder and construction firm Hensel Phelps ran multi-week pilot tests in the spring and fall in which Spot briefly took over the painstaking site surveying job that human field engineers normally do with handheld 360-degree cameras and HoloBuilder’s Reality Capture Platform software. “[It’s] about freeing their time up to do something that is less repetitive,” says HoloBuilder’s CMO Christian Claus.
Engineers steer spot using a smartphone app. [Animation: courtesy of HoloBuilder]HoloBuilder syncs Spot’s map with its own digital maps used to track construction site progress. That allows engineers to specify a list of locations where the robot will stop and snap new images once or twice each day. (Humans only have time to do it about once a week.) “You can see what happened in one location from one moment to the next so you can then manage [the work],” says Claus. “You can travel back and forth in time to see what the progress is.”
SpotWalk is not a one-stop solution, though. Construction companies have to arrange with Boston Dynamics to lease the robot. Then they coordinate with HoloBuilder for the software and service.
Seeing Spot trot around a busy construction site with lifelike agility is awe-inspiring, but a closer look shows how far the tech is from sci-fi. Spot only ventures where it’s been carefully instructed to go. It’s not making any decisions on its own, other than how to avoid a crash. And it’s certainly not ready to start hammering or welding. By taking on one of the dullest tasks on a construction project, the bot shows promise—but there’s no sign yet it will put any humans out of work.