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Robot dogs the newest ’employees’ at Alberta Shell refinery

Boston Dynamics' robot dog "Spot" is being used at an Alberta refinery. Courtesy / Boston Dynamics

Shell’s Scotford Complex in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., has two new “employees” that seem pulled right out of science fiction.

The site has recently added two Boston Dynamics robot dogs — marketed as “Spot” —  to its team. Shell purchased the two bots to do “riskier” and “mundane” tasks at the plant.

“They’re going to start doing inspections in our plants,” said Conal MacMillan with Shell Scotford. “They’ll be able to 3D image some of our units, they’ll be able to do some thermal scanning.”

MacMillan said each robot cost around CAD $100,000. The idea to add the computerized canines to the team came after the site saw success with other robotics.

“We brought in drones a number of years ago and we have certified drone pilots at our site — we’ve (also) been using tank-feeding robots,” MacMillan said.

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“Bringing in robot dogs seemed to be the next logical step in our evolution in our digitization journey at Scotford.”

Boston Dynamics, based in the U.S., has created several different styles of robots, including the “Atlas” humanoid model, but Spot is the only model currently for sale for commercial use.

The 65-pound industrial robot dog uses “remote operation and autonomous sensing” to help with data collection and inspections.

Read more: Boston Dynamics robots dance better than you in unsettling music video

MacMillan said the two robots at the Shell site, which arrived in December, have caught the attention of many of the workers.

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“We definitely have employees who want to pet the dog —  (or) more so probably use the controller and play with the dog,” he said. “It draws a crowd. There’s definitely interest and curiosity towards these robot dogs.”

He said the plan is to get the robots started with the simpler inspection and imaging tasks but then eventually learn more routes around the plant to help with security and safety.

“In the event of an emergency… we could send them in to test conditions for any firefighters we have on our site responding so we can keep them safe as well,” MacMillan said.

A file handout photo of Spot, Boston Dynamics’ robot dog. Courtesy / Boston Dynamics

The Shell Scotford Complex is located northeast of Edmonton in Fort Saskatchewan and employs around 1,300 people.

Boston Robotics says it may launch a “future variant” of the Spot design for in-home use as soon as 2022.

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