Spot, the agile, mobile robot, was designed by Boston Dynamics, the global leader in mobile robotics, and is taking construction to the next level.
The compact four-legged robot can map its environment, sense and avoid obstacles, climb stairs, and open doors, acting as an autonomous, remote inspection tool in a variety of environments, including power generation facilities, decommissioned nuclear sites, factory floors, construction sites and research laboratories.
The investment in new technology was delivered as part of the government’s Levelling Up funding programme which saw £17.5 million invested in a new research centre, the National Brownfield Institute (NBI) at the university’s £120 million Springfield Campus – a former brewery and brownfield site which was recently regenerated.
The partnership funding has allowed for investment in robotic technology as well as the latest wearable and hand-held laser scanning devices used for high quality reality capture of buildings and sites, and an immersive visualisation suite, Igloo Vision, providing businesses with access to equipment which stimulates collaboration, simulation and visualisation.
Paul Hampton, head of the school of architecture and built environment at the university, said: “Our overall investment in the construction super-campus at Springfield, including the new School of Architecture and Built Environment, is designed to enable and introduce students to the rapidly emerging world of digital construction.
“Our aim is to use and apply digital tools to improve the process of delivering and operating the built environment.
"Tools like Spot will ensure that the delivery, operation and renewal of our built environment will be safer, more efficient and more collaborative.
“The NBI is at the heart of a West Midlands construction training offer – providing the industry with the skills needed both now and in the future. As well as being at the forefront of a transformation of the way we will build homes and communities, it will also ensure that we learn from research around the world on modern construction and remediation techniques.
“Using technology like Spot at the NBI will help as a catalyst in utilisation of brownfield sites and provide developers with advice and knowledge in relation to areas such as building scanning, soil analysis, ground water contamination and ground stabilisation to effectively and safely bring those sites back into use.
“It will be a working model for brownfield remediation and new construction techniques that can be implemented regionally and nationally and exported around the world, building on existing expertise offered on site through the Thomas Telford University Technical College, the Elite Centre for Manufacturing Skills and the new School of Architecture & Built Environment.”
Paul Davies, knowledge transfer manager at the university, said: “Spot is the result of years of research by the brightest minds in the world in robotics engineering, and is at the cutting edge of robotics technology. It is fitted with a sophisticated collision avoidance system and can be remote controlled from 150 metres away.
"Spot can negotiate obstacles such as stairs to manoeuvre any site and is fitted with cameras giving all around visibility.
“Looking specifically at brownfield land, which is what the NBI will be doing, it could be unsafe, for example a building that is structurally unsound, or containing asbestos, anywhere that needs a survey in relation to how that land can be remediated.
“Spot can be used to minimise danger to individuals, hugely improving safety on site.
"Most companies in architecture and the built environment will not have access to these types of tools, therefore the support available from the NBI adds to the levelling up narrative.
"We’ve been given that funding to help unlock brownfield sites, not just locally but nationally. And the benefit of having this technology from a student perspective is early exposure in their careers to cutting-edge equipment which will give them an added advantage.”
The NBI will be a world-class institute that provides the facility to develop modern methods of building through innovation and partnership with the construction industry, focusing on the practical application of future brownfield regeneration and remediation through the work of research teams, leading policy development and commercial services.
The new Institute will also identify and look to address gaps in current provision, with a particular focus on the digital skills needed to transform the industry, bringing together expertise from across the region and further afield with greater focus on construction design, Building Information Modelling (BIM), off-site, modular construction, and lean construction methodologies.
The NBI will secure the City of Wolverhampton's position as a leader internationally in sustainable construction, circular economy and brownfield development and will deliver new skills, jobs and opportunities for local people in the city.
The ‘shovel-ready’ project benefited from £14.9million of funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund for the West Midlands. City of Wolverhampton Council worked closely with the Black Country LEP and West Midlands Combined Authority to secure the funding with the remainder provided by the Government’s Towns Fund.