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Robot dogs working in security, inspection and public safety jobs

A number of four-legged robot dogs have been deployed in the labor market for applications such as inspections, security and public safety, among others. At their core, these four-legged robots are mobility platforms that can be equipped with different payloads depending on the type of information businesses want to collect.

Competition in the four-legged robot market is intensifying. In the United States, Boston Dynamics has been developing its 70-pound Spot robot for about 10 years. Nearby, MIT is also working on a small four-legged robot it calls “mini cheetah.” Ghost Robotics in Philadelphia makes robots for military applications, while overseas, the Swiss company Anybotics makes a four-legged robot it calls Anymal for industrial customers. And Chinese companies like Deep Robotics, Weilan, and Unitree Robotics all build their own versions, though the latter two companies seem to be at least partially focused on the personal robotics market.

According to Allied Market Research, the global market for inspection robots generated $940 million in 2020 and is expected to reach nearly $14 billion by 2030. Take for example National Grid, an electric utility company and gas company that serves 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. Before using Spot, most inspections at National Grid substations were carried out by people. In some cases, substation operation would have had to be temporarily halted, as it would not have been safe for humans to perform inspections while the equipment was still on.

Electric and gas utility company, National Grid, uses a quadruped robot made by Boston Dynamics to perform an inspection at one of its Massachusetts substations.

CNBC | Madeleine Petrova

“We view the investment in the robot as a prudent investment because it improves the safety conditions for our employees,” says Dean Berlin, chief robot technology 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 because it allows us to compare the images collected at different times between them to be able to see patterns or changes in behavior.”

Others who have used Boston Dynamics robot dog, Spot, includes pharmaceutical group Merck and BP, which uses 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. Brazilian mining company, Vale, is another early adopter of Anybotics’ Anymal. After completing initial testing, 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 in 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 the case of Anymal, to marshalling yards to perform train inspections.

“These companies usually have to send their teams of educated people to collect data on the state of their plant. And so their vision is with these types of robots, like Anymal, to automate some of these tasks making sure that their employees are safe and can save some of the costs associated with transporting people on site,” says Péter Fankhauser, CEO and co-founder of Anybotics.

Anybotics’ Anymal robot collects data in a BASF factory.

Anybotic

Other use cases for quadruped robots are just beginning to spread. One of the most controversial has been the use of these robots for defense. In May 2021, the New York City Police Department said it would stop testing one of Boston Dynamics’ Spot robots sooner than expected due to backlash from the public.

“Spot’s role in public safety is to protect people. The NYPD was trying to use Spot in exactly this way where Spot was going to be the point of communication with a potentially barricaded and armed suspect who had hostages. It’s a good use case for a robot,” Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter told CNBC.

Although the robot involved in the NYPD incident was unarmed and was being remotely controlled by a police officer, concerns about arming fully autonomous robots led to the formation of an initiative known as ” Campaign to stop killer robots”. The coalition aims to ban the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons. Its supporters include Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the late Stephen Hawking and hundreds of AI experts.

For Ghost Robotics, the defense market is the company’s daily bread. The Philadelphia-based company says that of its more than 20 customers, 90% are US and allied foreign governments. One such customer 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 of Singapore. The agency says it will test and develop use cases for four-legged robots for security, defense and humanitarian applications.

Technology. sergeant. 321st Contingency Response Squadron security team John Rodiguez patrols with 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. sergeant. Cory D. Payne

Other use cases for robotic dogs are just beginning to catch on. So far, Spot has been deployed to check the vital signs of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, take radiation readings at nuclear power plants like Chernobyl and remind people to maintain social distancing amid the pandemic. . NASA has also sent teams of Boston Dynamics robotic dogs into caves to see if they can ever 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 could follow. Amid the pandemic, a tight job market is forcing many businesses to turn to automation. A December 2020 survey by McKinsey showed that 51% of respondents in North America and Europe said they had increased their investment in new technologies in 2020, not including remote work 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 says. “And our vision is that people shouldn’t be doing dangerous work in places they really shouldn’t be. So our vision within the [next] 10 years that it becomes common 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 autonomy 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 doesn’t include a self-charging docking station and is more limited in its autonomous capabilities compared to the “enterprise model” company’s most expensive. Payloads are also not included in the price. Take the National Grid robot for example. Although National Grid won’t share with CNBC how much it paid for the robot, just the thermal cameras and LIDAR it uses alone cost more than $57,000. Boston Dynamics claims to have sold several hundred Spot robots so far, while Anybotics has sold less than 100 robots.

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