Spot the robot dog hits the road for National Highways

Photo of Spot the robot dog at National Highways’ Development Centre at Moreton-in-Marsh
Spot the robot dog was tested at National Highways’ Development Centre at Moreton-in-Marsh before undergoing a live trial on the M5

National Highways, BAM Ritchies and Aecom are trialling Spot the robot dog for geotechnical surveys across the South West.

National Highways is using Spot’s dog’s eye view to capture data remotely in difficult-to-reach locations and across various terrains alongside the motorway and major A road network.

These access-constrained sites include steep-sided embankments and natural slopes, slopes beneath tree canopies, or otherwise obscured by vegetation, culverts, and under bridges and other structures. Using Spot is a safer and cost-effective option where inaccessible areas present difficulties and challenges to geotechnical inspectors, according to National Highways.

Initially, BAM Ritchies and Aecom put Spot through its paces at National Highways’ Development Centre at Moreton-in-Marsh last summer. There, they tested the robot’s capabilities in a number of highway settings and across differing ground conditions. They also tested Spot on earthworks of various gradients, heights and materials.

Spot’s first live trial was alongside the M5 in Somerset, using cameras and a Leica LiDAR tracker.

M5 trial

Guy Swains, engineering manager within National Highways’ South West geotechnical team, said: “Our structures team is working on renewing certain elements of the St Georges railway bridge between junctions 20 and 21 of the M5, and identified several geotechnical defects in the ground surface.

“We were brought in to look into the detailed visual inspection. We felt it provided an ideal opportunity to give Spot its first run.

“The data from the trials will also be captured and analysed. Depending on results, hopefully we’ll be able to measure an improvement in safety methods and efficiencies and employ the technology in our future work.”

Matt Ewing, BAM Ritchies business development manager, explained: “It’s about finding the right applications. The team is focused on realising Spot’s potential.”

James Codd, Aecom’s associate director of ground engineering, added: “We really believe there could be a permanent place for Spot in the geotechnical asset management toolkit.”

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