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Boston Dynamics' Four-Legged Robot Has Been Gathering Data at a Major Construction Site in London

Aaron Hargreaves / Foster + Partners
  • Foster + Partners, a leading architecture practice, also used the robot at its offices in the U.K. capital.
  • U.S. based Boston Dynamics is owned by the SoftBank Group.

A world leading architecture practice has been using Boston Dynamics' four-legged robot, Spot, to gather data from a construction site and also map out a digital twin of its office space. 

In a statement Wednesday, Foster + Partners explained how the Battersea Roof Gardens development in London had been utilized "as a testbed" for the four-legged robot, which can be controlled by a human from a distance or follow a predefined route.

A mixed-use development that will include high-end apartments, Battersea Roof Gardens will also incorporate a rooftop garden with sweeping views. Its construction is part of a wider redevelopment of the area surrounding the iconic Battersea Power Station, which is also being repurposed.

The collaboration involved the architecture company's Applied Research and Development group working alongside a team from Boston Dynamics, which is owned by the SoftBank Group.

Construction site monitoring

At the project in Battersea, a map and associated "missions" were created for the robot to follow so it could scan specific areas and collate data. It came back to the site at weekly intervals in order to re-run its missions, with Foster + Partners describing the process as "yielding a sequence of highly comparable, consistent models."

Martha Tsigkari, a partner at the architecture firm, described the robot's ability to repeatedly complete routine scans in "an ever-changing environment" as "invaluable not only in terms of the consistency but also the large amount of high-quality data collected."

"Through this process we developed a sequence of scans that may help us track the project progress against timeframes as well as facilitate regular comparisons against the BIM model," she added.

BIM refers to building information modeling. It's been described by multinational firm Arup as a "virtual prototype" which enables "any aspect of a design's performance to be simulated and assessed before it is built."

'Digital twin' of office space

In addition to the construction site in Battersea, the robot was also deployed at Foster + Partners' London campus, where it was used to create a "digital twin" of that space. A "four-dimensional" model of the area was formed, allowing those involved in the project to see how the space changes as time passes.

"Combining temporal and spatial information with data from sensors that read environmental conditions and occupancy, we can construct an intricate model of how people, furnishings and environmental conditions interact," Adam Davis, a partner at Foster + Partners, said in a statement.

"This, in turn, helps us to operate our premises more efficiently and to anticipate how new designs will perform," he added.

The last few years have seen a number of projects focused on the gathering of data related to construction schemes and the built environment take shape.

Just this week, it was announced that a collaboration between academia and business in the U.K. would work on the development of "low carbon smart pipes" that could be deployed in major infrastructure projects.

The University of Birmingham said Monday that the program would be led by a firm called Aquaspira, which specializes in the production of large diameter drainage pipes.

One aspect of the project will involve the integration of sensors into the piping. This tech will be used to "detect and report changes in environmental conditions," which will allow any problematic issues to be quickly identified and remedied.

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