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Robot protecting workers in hazardous places

Prof Yvan Petillot and robot: supporting people

A robot made famous by dancing on YouTube is now part of a research project in Scotland aimed at supporting workers dealing with hazardous environments.

Experts at the Edinburgh-based National Robotarium, a world-leading research facility for robotics and artificial intelligence, are looking to support those in industries such as construction and offshore energy inspection or working in disaster recovery.

The £60,000 ‘Spot’ robot will be fitted with “telexistence” technology, which lets humans experience an environment without being there, using devices like microphones and cameras to relay sounds and videos.

Professor Yvan Petillot, professor of robotics and autonomous systems at Heriot-Watt University and co-academic lead of the National Robotarium, said: “Fitting this robot with our telexistence technology means we can carry out a range of experiments.

“We can test how the robot can help and support people working in hazardous environments, including oil and gas platforms and oil refineries. 

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“In search and rescue operations or following accidents, Spot robots fitted with our sensors could monitor a casualty’s vital signs and transmit images and sounds back to a hospital, allowing doctors to offer advice on treatment or decide when it’s safe to move a patient.

“Robots of this design can climb over rubble, walk up and down stairs, and cope with hazards like dust and rain. These features will prove very useful as we develop more ways to ensure robots can help keep people safe and save companies money.”

Dr Sen Wang, an associate professor at Heriot-Watt University and robotics at the Robotarium, added: “The first application for our research with this new robot will be supporting the construction industry. We are going to fit lidar to our robot, which is similar to radar but uses light instead of radio waves.

“That will allow the robot to build up a picture of its surroundings while spotting obstacles like rubble on construction sites. 

“Our Spot, however, is unique. We have set it up to be a moving data collector and data centre, equipped with advanced telepresence solutions. When we deploy it on construction sites, it will collect and measure in real time, relaying the data to multiple experts at once, all around the world.

“This means construction companies, regardless of their location, can benefit from worldwide expertise. Using Spot in this way has the potential to speed up the construction process, reduce costs of re-work, detect hazards, increase efficiency and improve quality control.”

The National Robotarium is a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, which combines Heriot-Watt’s engineering heritage and strengths in robotics for hazardous environments, manufacturing, healthcare, and human-robot interaction with the University of Edinburgh’s expertise in space, construction, and humanoid robotics. 

Funded by the Edinburgh & South East Scotland City Region Deal, the National Robotarium supports the deal’s overarching objective of accelerating growth by attracting inward investment and talent. 

The National Robotarium building will open on Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus in 2022.



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