Boston Dynamics explores applications of autonomous robots on construction sites


Autonomous robots can play a significant role in construction, specifically in production and quality control workflows by enabling automation of routine and tedious tasks, reducing workload and improving safety.

Boston Dynamics is partnering with construction technology firms such as Trimble, Hilti, and HoloBuilder to explore the use of its Spot autonomous robots on construction sites.

Boston Dynamics’ Spot is a robot small enough to be used indoors and that climbs stairs and traverses rough terrain with ease. Spot is designed to go places where wheeled robots cannot, while carrying payloads with endurance far beyond aerial drones. The robot has a speed of 1.6 m/s, runtime of 90 minutes, and swappable batteries. It uses stereo cameras to avoid obstacles and people as it moves through work sites.
Spot’s flexible payload interface and accessible API enable third parties to develop the next generation of robotic applications such as inspection of progress on construction sites and comparison with BIM, remote inspection of oil and gas plants, and monitoring of dangerous situations for public safety. The Spot software development kit enables each application to command poses and velocities, configure payloads, and access robot perception and payload data.

Spot comes equipped with Autowalk, a feature that allows users to record and replay autonomous actions. In a recording mission, the user can drive the Spot around and choose actions for the robot to complete at points along the mission route. In a replaying mission, the Spot will execute the movements and actions as recorded, while adapting to minor changes in the environment.

The payload capacity of the Spot is 14kg. Payloads under development for different missions include the Spot Cam for sensing, Spot Arm for manipulation, Spot Core for computing and Spot GXP for power.

The Spot Cam enables 360⁰ vision and includes an optional pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera with 30x optical zoom for detailed inspections. The Spot Arm enables mobile manipulation for tasks like opening doors and grasping objects. The Spot Core provides dedicated processing for applications requiring on-robot computation. The Spot GXP expands the power options and ports available for custom payloads and communication systems.

Trimble and Liechtenstein-based Hilti, which supplies the worldwide construction and energy industries with products, systems, software and services, are collaborating to explore the integration of Trimble’s and Hilti’s construction management software solutions, GNSS technology and reality capture devices with the Spot robot platform.

Equipped with Trimble’s and Hilti’s reality capture devices as its payload and directly communicating with a cloud-based construction management application, the Spot robot will be able to provide consistent output, deliver improved efficiency on repeatable tasks and enable up-to-date as-built data analysis. The autonomous, terrain-agnostic capabilities support the dynamic nature of the construction environment, enabling the robot to by-pass obstacles and maintain its defined path to support routine tasks such as daily site scans, progress monitoring, asset management and remote support. Multi-directional communication between the robot, Trimble’s and Hilti’s payloads and the cloud application support a continuous flow of information and closes the loop for the construction environment.

HoloBuilder, the US-based construction technology company that designs, develops, and sells enterprise SaaS software, has released SpotWalk, an integrated app that enables users to teach the robot a path through the construction site that can then be automatically documented by the robot.

The spherical images collected will be organized and managed in HoloBuilder’s enterprise-ready web application and analyzed using SiteAI, HoloBuilder’s artificial intelligence engine.

The partnership between HoloBuilder and Boston Dynamics brings autonomous 360° reality capture to construction projects, addressing core productivity inefficiencies that continue hampering the construction industry.

Controlled by the SpotWalk app, the Spot robot can walk job sites autonomously, capturing 360° images that record the progress of a construction project over time. The process, allows for quality and accuracy control, giving contractors, trade partners, and owners a living digital record of the project. The integration creates repeatable, actionable data, addresses all phases of a construction project, and improves productivity.

HoloBuilder’s SiteAI analyzes images captured by SpotWalk to get unprecedented insight into the jobsite. The project site data combined with the quantifiable analysis enables contractors and owners to report on progress constantly.

The SpotWalk app has two general modes. The first mode enables project teams to teach Spot the capture route simply by driving the robot via an intuitive smartphone interface. The second mode drives Spot autonomously on its trained path, taking pictures along the way at defined capture locations, delivering immediate value to the construction project and workforce.

US-based contractor Hensel Phelps conducted early pilot tests of the SpotWalk app at their $1.2 billion San Francisco Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Airport project. The pilot showed that with minimal training on-site the project team can get SpotWalk functioning.

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