A number of four-legged robot dogs were used in the workforce 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 that companies 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 that it calls the “mini cheetah”. Ghost Robotics in Philadelphia makes robots for military applications, while abroad Anybotics, based in Switzerland, makes a four-legged robot called Anymal for industrial customers. And Chinese companies like Deep Robotics, Weilan, and Unitree Robotics all build their own versions, though these last two companies are at least partially focused on the personal robotics market.
The global inspection robots market was worth $ 940 million in 2020 and is projected to reach nearly $ 14 billion by 2030, according to Allied Market Research. Take, for example, National Grid, an electricity and gas company that has customers in Massachusetts, New York, and. serves Rhode Island. The company uses two robots from Boston Dynamics, Massachusetts, 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 the equipment in the substation. Prior to using Spot, most of the inspections at National Grid’s substations were human. In some cases, substation operations have had to be temporarily shut down because it would not have been safe for humans to conduct the inspections with the equipment running.
Electric and gas company National Grid uses a four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics to conduct an inspection at one of its Massachusetts substations.
CNBC | Magdalena Petrova
“We consider the investment in the robot to be a sensible investment, as it improves the safe working conditions for our employees,” says Dean Berlin, senior engineer for robotics at National Grid. “The robot also has the advantage that it is very repeatable. He collects the images every time from the same point of view, from the same point of view, which is very useful because we can compare the images collected at different times to be able to identify trends or changes in behavior. “
Others who have used Boston Dynamics‘ Robot dog Spot, which belongs to the pharmaceutical companies Merck and BP, 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 Anybotics robot dogs to inspect its offshore platforms. Brazilian mining company Vale is another early adopter of Anybotics’ Anymal. After completing the initial tests, Vale is now in the process of buying a robot to conduct inspections and collect data on the condition of the equipment in one of its mines. Vale says that Anymal’s help with inspections saves employees from walking into potentially dangerous rooms, often filled with dust, noise, and rotating 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 devices. Both Spot and Anymal have also been used on construction sites and, in the case of Anymal, at train stations to conduct train inspections.
“These companies usually have to send out their teams of trained employees to collect data on the condition of their plant. Their vision is therefore to use robots like Anymal to automate some of these tasks to ensure that their employees are safe and can save some of the costs of actually transporting people on site, “says Péter Fankhauser, CEO and co-founder of Anybotics.
Anybotics’ Anymal robot collects data in a BASF plant.
Other use cases for four-legged robots are just beginning to take hold. One of the most controversial was the use of these robots for defense. In May 2021, New York police said they would stop testing one of Boston Dynamics’ spot robots ahead of schedule due to fierce public backlash.
“Spots’ role in public safety is to keep people safe from harm. The NYPD attempted to use Spot in such a way that Spot would be the point of communication with a possibly barricaded and armed suspect who was being held hostage a good use case for a robot, “Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter told CNBC.
Although the robot was unarmed in the NYPD incident and was remotely controlled by a police officer, concerns about the arming of fully autonomous robots have led to the formation of an initiative known as the “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots”. The goal of the coalition is 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 company’s bread and butter. The Philadelphia-based company says 90% of its 20+ customers 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 at multiple bases. According to the Air Force, the robots can operate over a wide temperature range and are equipped with 14 sensors to improve situational awareness. Ghost Robotics has also signed a contract with the Singapore Defense Science and Technology Agency. The agency says it will test and develop use cases for four-legged robots for security, defense and humanitarian applications.
US Air Force | Technology. Sgt. Cory D. Payne
Other use cases for robot dogs are just beginning to take off. So far, Spot has been used to check the vital signs of Covid-19 patients in hospitals, take radiation measurements in nuclear power plants like Chernobyl, and remind people to keep social distance amid the pandemic. NASA has also sent teams of Boston Dynamics robot dogs into caves to see if one day they could be used to search for life on other planets. Farmers Insurance also said the company will use Spot with its claims personnel to assess damage from hurricanes, tornadoes and other climate events.
Experts predict that the insurance industry alone will spend $ 1.7 billion on robotic systems in 2025. And other industries could follow suit. In the midst of the pandemic, a tight labor market is forcing many companies to turn to automation. A survey conducted by McKinsey in December 2020 found that 51 percent of respondents in North America and Europe said they had invested more in new technologies in 2020, excluding remote working technologies.
“As a company, we are really pushing for this artificial workforce to be taken over, with humans and robots working shoulder to shoulder to solve difficult problems,” says Fankhauser. “And our vision is that people shouldn’t do dangerous work in places they shouldn’t be [next] 10 years that it would become the standard to hire either a person or a robot for a specific job. “
But they’re not cheap. Anybotics’ Anymal costs $ 150,000, but the company says that includes the full autonomy platform that comes with LIDAR and a docking station. Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60 robot also costs around $ 150,000. Boston Dynamics entry-level “Explorer” spot robot starts at $ 75,000 but does not include a self-loading station and is more limited in its autonomous capabilities compared to the company’s more expensive “Enterprise” model. The payloads are also not included in the price tag. Take the National Grid robot, for example. While National Grid didn’t want to tell CNBC how much it paid for the robot, the thermal cameras and LIDAR alone cost over $ 57,000. Boston Dynamics says it has sold several hundred spot robots, and Anybotics fewer than 100 robots.
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