The energetic quadruped robot Spot from robotics firm Boston Dynamics has become a curious sight on construction jobs over the last couple of years, as multiple pilot efforts have tried to find the best fit for the autonomous robotic dog. But Spot is now taking its most concrete steps into the industry as a version launching with an official Trimble laser-scanning payload that is designed for easy deployment on the jobsite.
“A lot of the customers in the construction space are looking for out of the box functionality,” says Brian Ringley, construction technology manager at Boston Dynamics. With the new integrated package from the robot manufacturer and Trimble, “you get the robot and sensors to provide end value—you as the end user don’t have to do anything particularly technical to get it going.”
The version of the Spot robot set to be offered by Trimble and Boston Dynamics will come with a Trimble SP986 GNSS antenna for positional accuracy and navigation as well a Trimble X7 laser scanner to document a construction site autonomously. The Spot robot and its payload of instruments can be controlled and configured via Trimble Field Link layout software, and the data collected then flows back into Trimble’s cloud platform.
“The offering is quite different from the off-the-shelf version of Spot,” says Martin Holmgren, Trimble general manager for building field solutions. “It’s similar to any Trimble product, fully backed by our software. With the Field Link interface, any user of total stations will be familiar with it enough to control the robot and support existing workflows.” Users will be able to load in the capture data from Spot directly into the project’s 3D BIM file, all within the Field Link tablet app.
While most of the deployments of the Spot robot on jobsites so far has been in building interiors, Holmgren says that the Trimble-branded Spot will be able to work outdoors on large civil projects as well. “On the civil side where they are moving dirt around, that’s the primary users of GNSS,” he says. Spot will be integrated into Trimble Earthworks, where can be used to track progress on earthmoving jobs.
The Spot robot, with its ability to traverse cluttered jobsites as well as climb and descend stairs, can capture laser scans and location data in a more consistent way than a human surveyor. And since Spot is able to work without direct supervision, it allows for regular scans of jobsites during off-hours. “With Spot, we’ll be able to collect more data, better data, up-to-date data,” explains Holmgren. “That way when the team arrives, the dog can have been out in the morning or the night before, and we have the data already collected for the day’s work.”
Using laser scans, 360° photography and other forms of reality capture to document work progress is not a new idea in construction. But it was often limited by the personnel required to walk the jobsite each time with a scanner or camera, diligently taking captures at the same exact points, day after day. Automating that process opens up whole new avenues for knowing what is happening on site, says Holmgren. “For construction, understanding what work was done yesterday or this week ties back to cashflow and having a better way of understanding what is happening on site.”
According to Ringley, having more than a few Spot robots out in the world stumbling around construction sites for the last couple of years has brought Boston Dynamics a lot of key performance data on navigating these complex sites. “We feel like we are turning the tide. We’ve learned a lot from our early adopters,” he says. “The robot is getting more and more effective in these environments.”
Holmgren says that rather than invest in yet another proof-of-concept for autonomous robots on the jobsite, the Trimble version of Spot is very much a final product that can contribute right away. “With this, you are getting the full benefits of the data,” he says.
As site capture data from Spot begins to flow in, the return on investment begins right away, says Holmgren. “The real benefit is for the folks on the back end of the construction process—folks in project management tools, ERPs, scheduling tools, 5D tools,” he explains. “We bring the data in and compare progress, compare the information with where it was expected to be [in order to] make better informed decisions.”
Boston Dynamics’ Ringley says selling the Trimble-branded Spot isn’t the only way the company is looking to get their little robot into the industry, but for now it’s the most obvious path forward. “It’s a big ecosystem, and there lots of other ways you could use the robot,” he says. “But this offers a great shot at getting to the end value.”
Boston Dynamics will continue to sell the standard version of Spot to the construction market, with all the open software development kits and APIs for firms that want to build out their own use cases. Currently, the bare Spot robot features a 30 lb payload capacity and two integrated payload rails to mount devices and equipment. Two payload ports can power onboard equipment and provide data links to the Spot robot. The standard Spot comes with two batteries and a 90 minute runtime. A self-charging dock is planned to be released next year.
The Trimble-integrated version of the Spot robot will be available in the second quarter of 2021 through Trimble, Boston Dynamics, and select BuildingPoint and SITECH distribution partners, in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
A final price has not been announced, but Holmgren says with the base Spot list price of about $100,000 and roughly $50,000 of Trimble products added in, the final price will be somewhere around $150,000.
But even though the little robot dog is turning heads on site, Holmgren says it fits comfortably into the broader vision of autonomy and data-driven construction Trimble has been pursuing for years. “The ultimate benefit here is with the GC and the owner,” he says. “What we are ultimately moving toward is with more and more autonomy you will have faster lead times for project, less rework because more of the work is being done automatically, and you can then use the excess labor to support the process.”