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Boston Dynamics’ remarkable robot dog has landed its first gig

Boston Dynamics’ remarkable robot dog has landed its first gig, taking on a myriad of tasks on an oil and gas production vessel in Norway.

Spot, as the robo-dog is called, has been in development for years, with numerous iterations culminating in a design that’s as agile as it is clever.

In September 2019, the Massachusetts-based team that created Spot announced its readiness for commercial deployment, with Norwegian oil producer Aker BP apparently the first to show an interest.

Aker BP is keen to see how well Spot can carry out a range of tasks that will include running inspections, sniffing out gas leaks, gathering data, and generating reports. The trial will also gauge Spot’s ability to perform tasks considered dangerous for humans, and its effectiveness at providing onshore operators with telepresence on offshore installations.

The role will involve the semi-autonomous robot making full use of its stereo camera system, obstacle avoidance technology, and built-in sensors — as well as its stair-climbing skills — much of it powered by software from Oslo-based A.I. specialist Cognite.

In a nutshell, the aim of the trial, which will also test other equipment such as drones, is to learn more about how robotic systems can make offshore operations safer, more efficient, and more sustainable.

A video released by Aker BP this week shows Spot making its way around an industrial site like a curious mutt, except that this particular pooch actually does what it’s told.

Pointing to one of the advantages of having a robot employee, Kjetil Digre, Aker BP’s senior vice president for operations, told Bloomberg, “These things never get tired, they have a larger ability to adapt and to gather data.” Comments like that may concern Aker BP’s human employees, though some analysts suggest we have little to fear from bringing robots into the workplace.

Prior to this week’s news regarding Spot’s imminent deployment, Aker BP had already stated its intention to use technology to enhance its business.

“Digitalization will be one of the differentiators between the oil companies of the world, in order to be able to deliver low cost and low emissions,” said Karl Johnny Hersvik, CEO of Aker BP. “Our vision is to digitalize all our operations from cradle to grave in order to increase productivity, enhance quality, and improve the safety of our employees. Exploring the potential of robotics offshore underpin our digital journey.”

Following an assessment period, Aker BP could deploy several Spots, or, if it doesn’t go so well, send the canine-inspired contraption straight to the doghouse.

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