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With new tricks and smarts, nimble Spot robots proving their worth across OPG

OPG has deployed several Spot robots, manufactured by Boston Dynamics, to help out in many areas of operations.
OPG has deployed several Spot robots, manufactured by Boston Dynamics, to help out in many areas of operations.

Across OPG’s operations, agile, four-legged robot dogs are turning heads, improving safety, and unlocking efficiencies with some very cool tricks.

Currently, five of Boston Dynamics’ advanced mobile Spot robots have been deployed through OPG’s Enterprise Innovation division. The nimble, yellow quadruped can spin, walk, climb, take 360-degree video, and even show off a few dance moves, all while being controlled by an intuitive tablet application.

These robots are now helping with various tasks as well as research and development missions within OPG’s Operations, Radiation Protection, Renewable Generation, and Digital Innovation divisions. Another OPG Spot is helping with additional research projects at Ontario Tech University.

While the Innovation team is investigating the possibility of Spot completing certain tasks autonomously in the future, for now all of Spot’s actions are performed and verified by a qualified OPG operator.

“Spot continues to become smarter and more capable as we learn how best to utilize it and what new abilities we can add,” said Mike Di Lisi, Innovation Coordinator at OPG’s Enterprise Innovation. “The robot has already proven its worth through successful inspections and tasks completed in hazardous, hard-to-reach environments.”

In addition to being able to squeeze into tight areas to conduct inspections and repairs, the 25-kilogram robot can absorb high levels of radiation, which helps improve safety by allowing OPG employees to avoid dose exposure.

Earlier this year, OPG’s first Spot robot, deployed at Pickering Nuclear Generating Station (GS), celebrated its first birthday. In its first year, the four-legged helper completed several successful missions at both OPG’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations, including aiding a forced outage at Darlington’s Unit 2 and completing inspections in Pickering’s Unit 6 and Unit 1.

The agile, four-legged robot is capable of some neat tricks, including opening and closing doors.
The agile, four-legged robot is capable of some neat tricks, including opening and closing doors.

Combined, these tasks saved a significant amount of radiation exposure for employees and resulted in time saved and other efficiencies.

The robot has also acquired a number of new tricks over the year through additional features and functionality, including the use of an infrared camera to detect thermal anomalies, the addition of a manipulator arm, and radiation mapping and automated survey capabilities.

After observing Pickering’s success, Darlington’s Radiation Protection division procured the latest “Enterprise” Spot model this year.

In an OPG first, that robot recently disconnected a 600-volt breaker at Darlington using its manipulator arm, making the robot dog a circuit breaker expert and honorary member of the Maintenance Static Crew.

All of Spot’s actions are performed and verified by a qualified OPG operator, who guides spot using tablet controls.
All of Spot’s actions are performed and verified by a qualified OPG operator, who guides spot using tablet controls.

“While Spot performed the job flawlessly, this was only made possible due to thorough job preparation and planning from the maintainers, operators, and engineers behind it,” said Neil Mohan, Assistant Maintenance Manager at Darlington Nuclear GS.

OPG is now working with Boston Dynamics to create an in-house maintenance program to allow for efficient and rapid repairs on the company’s fleet of Spots. In a world-first, OPG employees successfully replaced a malfunctioning manipulator arm on one of the company’s Spots, the first time Boston Dynamics has had a customer perform one of these repairs.

Meanwhile, in OPG’s Renewable Generation division, employees at the Campbellford Work Centre are testing out their first Spot unit to see how it moves through a hydroelectric station environment.

Testing is also underway to gauge Spot’s teleoperations ability, so operators can remotely control it from hundreds of kilometres away. This would be especially useful as currently OPG employees drive far distances to conduct inspections and other tasks at unmanned hydro stations in the far reaches of the province.

Pickering's Spot robot dog deftly navigates a staircase at the station.
Pickering's Spot robot dog deftly navigates a staircase at the station.

The end goal is to eventually let several Spots loose to allow them to independently function at hydro sites and self-charge when needed. By conducting routine inspections and relaying important data back to operators, these machines could unlock several potential benefits.

“Implementing tech like Spot in Renewable Generation has the potential to significantly reduce the number of trips made to remote generating stations, and as a direct result reduce travel risks and lessen vehicle emissions. If routine inspections can be automated it would allow maintenance trades more time to focus on repairs and preventative maintenance,” said Ed Loghrin, Trades Management Supervisor in OPG’s Renewable Generation. “Our end goal is to determine if having a Spot-like robot implemented at remote stations across OPG makes sense, and if this technology can act as an effective set of eyes and ears at the stations when we can’t be there.”