Legged robots like Spot are being used in academic research.

Spot’s easy mobility, along with a host of other benefits, has made it a popular choice in academia and research institutions. The ready-out-of-the-box quadruped robot helps researchers focus on their objectives, explore tough problems, and experiment with the many ways robotics can positively impact people’s lives. Here are just a few ways that educational and research organizations are working with Spot today.

Studying Robotics, Autonomy, and Artificial Intelligence

It may seem obvious that a robot would be used in robotics research, but Spot’s advanced agility and reliability makes it a strong candidate for research that explores how robots navigate and interact with the world and people around them. Research into Artificial Intelligence (AI) or human-robot interactions benefit from building experiments using a robot that works out of the box and is easy to maintain; researchers can focus their energy on the actual subject of their research, rather than on robot maintenance and upkeep.

For example, researchers working to improve the safety and resilience of autonomous vehicles, can use Spot to test advanced motion planning and control algorithms for autonomous navigation. Early lessons from Spot help model solutions for the challenges autonomous vehicles face today, especially when presented with unforeseen circumstances.

Developing future-forward applications

Some researchers are looking not to how robots can be used today, but how they could be used in both ambitious and commonplace ways in the future. In the Subterranean (SubT) Challenge for example, teams deploy fleets of drones and robotic platforms working towards the project’s goal: “exploring new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, search, and exploit complex underground environments, including human-made tunnel systems, urban underground, and natural cave networks.” 

Several of the top teams used Spot in their fleets, autonomously exploring unpredictable terrain. Christoffer Heckman, Assistant Professor at UC Boulder, explains why his team added Spot to their roster. “If you want to be able to work over steps, or curbs, or anything like this, then obviously a wheeled platform just can't do it,” he says. “Spot literally walks straight over it, just knows how to plan. You don't even have to do that sort of work yourself.”

This research helps move us closer towards use cases like autonomous search and rescue or disaster relief efforts where diverse autonomous technologies work in concert to effectively cover large areas with unpredictable terrain. Spot’s agility and mobile manipulation capabilities offer a testing ground for even more ambitious researchlike helping NASA explore deep caves to answer questions about the possibility of life outside earth.

Speeding up lab-to-commercial cycles

Spot has often been put to work in applied research and public-private partnerships. As many industries look to scale the use of robotics, there is an opportunity for research exploring practical uses of innovative technology on construction sites, power plants, and more. Since Spot is already being used in these industrial applications, many of the tools needed to integrate existing systems, payloads, and processeslike an SDK and support documentationalready exist. And working with industry partners on applied research can give students in related programs an opportunity for hands-on experience.

Too often, promising ideas take years to incubate in the lab and struggle to scale the real world. Using a robot that is commercially available and easy to use enables a faster pipeline from innovation to real-world application.

Educating the next generation

Outside of research, Spot can also be a valuable teaching tool in robotics, computer science, engineering, and information technology classes. Dale Musser, Associate Teaching Professor, University of Missouri College of Engineering, explains, “Spot and the solutions built using it involves the integration and use of so many technologies that it intersects every aspect of our IT program. Spot can serve as a central theme…across the program.”

Spot serves as a hub of opportunity for students to get hands-on with advanced technology. Student projects with Spot have included programing new controls and behaviors, creating documentation and training materials, working with industry partners on practical applications, and collaborating with other departments on outreach events.

Universities and research institutions use Spot as the base with which to advance fundamental knowledge in the fields of robotics and a host of related areas. The possibilities are limitless.

To learn more, watch our on-demand conversation with four Boston Dynamics customers using Spot for academic and industry research.

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