Energy Robotics, a leading developer of software solutions for mobile robots used in industrial applications, announced last week that its remote sensing and inspection solution for Boston Dynamics’s agile mobile robot Spot was successfully deployed at Merck’s thermal exhaust treatment plant at its headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. Energy Robotics equipped Spot with sensor technology and remote supervision functions to support the inspection mission.
Thermal exhaust treatment facilities play an important role in environmental protection. They contain a number of maintenance intensive components that must be monitored frequently. Sensors typically held by a human doing routine inspection are used to detect anomalies in equipment such as pumps or fans, as well as inspect pressure and fluid levels in tanks. Energy Robotics integrated these sensors with Spot to make condition monitoring more efficient. With sensors like thermal and zoom cameras Spot gathered data that was transferred by encrypted communication over the public 4G network to the operator’s web-based interface on PC or tablet.
By automating a path through their facility, Merck and Energy Robotics achieved a smooth and successful mission totaling one hour for a course through a multi-story facility, with the robot negotiating multiple industrial stairs. At scale, such robotic inspections can increase the frequency and consistency of facility performance monitoring. Using a larger, more diverse data set automatically collected by robots could significantly improve long-term efficiency by predictive maintenance. This type of scaled equipment monitoring would also make environmental protection efforts more effective.
This type of routine monitoring is important, but dull and uncomfortable. Spot helps to perform physically demanding tasks in confined, hot and noisy spaces. The robot also provides routine maintenance and asset performance data in a reproducible, high quality manner.
What appears to be easy and efficient, is the result of enormous worldwide progress in both robotic software and hardware development over the last years.
“Merck is one of the first companies in Europe testing Spot. The pilot with our new partners Energy Robotics and Boston Dynamics shows the state of the art in autonomous robotics,” says Hartmut Manske, Head of Automation and Robotics at Merck. “We are convinced that robots like Spot can efficiently and reliably support remotely supervised missions at our plants.”
Pilot insights: Proving the value of robotic hardware and software
Combining Boston Dynamics’ intuitive controls, robotic intelligence and open interface with Energy Robotics’ control and autonomy software, user interface and encrypted cloud connection, Spot can be taught to autonomously perform a specific inspection round while being supervised remotely from anywhere with internet connectivity. Multiple cameras and industrial sensors enable the robot to find its way around while recording and transmitting information about the facility’s onsite equipment operations.
Spot reads the displays of gauges in its immediate vicinity and can also zoom in on distant objects using an externally-mounted optical zoom lens. In the thermal exhaust treatment facility, for instance, it monitors cooling water levels and notes whether condensation water has accumulated. Outside the facility, Spot monitors pipe bridges for anomalies.
Among the robot’s many abilities, it can detect defects of wires or the temperature of pump components using thermal imaging. The robot was put through its paces on a comprehensive course that tested its ability to handle special challenges such as climbing stairs, scaling embankments and walking over grating. To avoid collisions, Spot is able to circumvent vehicles and other obstacles.
“With Spot, Boston Dynamics provides a robot with outstanding mobility for innovative industrial applications. Spot perfectly complements our comprehensive software stack for autonomous inspection, navigation and fleet management,” says Dr. Stefan Kohlbrecher, CTO of Energy Robotics.
“Together with Merck, we are looking forward to expanding Spot’s use cases, especially for challenging indoor and outdoor areas, such as autonomous inspection of a wastewater treatment plant. With such deployments we create tangible business value for our customers.” adds Dr. Dorian Scholz, CEO of Energy Robotics.
Three partners, one goal
Michael Perry, Vice President of Business Development from US-based company Boston Dynamics is confident: “Energy Robotics has significant experience around autonomous mobile robot control and sensor integrations in complex environments. We are looking forward to cooperating with them in the future as a strong partner to serve our industrial customers.”
Autonomous robots are gaining traction in several industries. Energy Robotics’ software for autonomous robotic inspection and fleet supervision, which is already a leading solution in the oil and gas industry, is now available with Boston Dynamics’ Spot, the leading solution in mobile robotics for rugged environments. Customers like Merck benefit from this powerful combination, which allows to generate and analyze large volumes of sensor data increasing operational efficiency, reducing maintenance costs, and improving people’s working conditions.
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Energy Robotics announces pilot with Merck and US-Based Boston Dynamics was originally published in FrankfurtValley on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.