Robot Dog Revolution: Spanish Company Employs Cutting-Edge Techniques to Train Boston Dynamics’ Spot

Boston Dynamics Robot Dog

The multinational company Plain Concepts has presented a pioneering solution in Europe for the remote control of Spot, Boston Dynamics’ robot dog, with virtual and mixed reality glasses.

We have all seen Spot, the Boston Dynamics ‘dog’, on the screen at some point. But this quadruped robot is so realistic in its movements that it even impresses when it comes up close to you in person.

His way of imitating the advance of an animal and his firm step leaves no one indifferent. And now, thanks to a Spanish technology company, this four-legged robot can also be controlled remotely through virtual and mixed reality glasses.

The company that has made it possible is Plain Concepts, a multinational of Spanish origin specializing in the development of innovation projects. This company, in addition to dedicating itself to solving the needs of various sectors in the technological field, has a team made up of about twenty visionaries whose main job is to imagine what the challenges of the future will be and what technology all industries will want to have.

And their key to success is that today they already have that technology —or, at least, they visualize it.

The New from Spot: Remote Teleoperation

Plain Concepts has developed a pioneering solution in the world that allows the Boston Dynamics Spot quadruped robot to be teleoperated with precision in the most dangerous areas of industrial facilities, as well as in infrastructures where an operator is not or cannot reach, ” which provides security, speed and avoids displacements”, they affirm from the company.

Large industrial, oil and gas, energy, telecommunications or hydraulic facilities have increasingly complex and sometimes dangerous processes for operators. 

“While automation has managed to reduce worker exposure to these risks, human intervention is still required to perform many inspection and maintenance tasks. To solve this problem, Plain Concepts has combined its knowledge in mixed and virtual reality technologies with robotics to develop MRLink Unit: your Mixed Reality Remote Connection”.

MRLink Unit is a technological solution that allows the use of virtual and mixed reality glasses to control, from any geographical location and in real-time, Spot, the Boston Dynamics robot. The spot is the most advanced quadruped robot on the market for carrying out tasks in industrial and risk environments thanks to its agility, its load capacity, and its control system.

MRLink Unit allows companies from various sectors to reduce the risks of accidents at work, increase surveillance in the facilities thanks to the multi-sensor system equipped in Spot, and prevent the displacement of technical personnel, who can operate the robot even when it is in another city.

The solution is multi-device and currently supports Microsoft HoloLens2 and Meta Quest Pro devices. From a mixed or virtual reality interface, the operator has an immersive experience with first or third-person vision and can intuitively order movements of the robot in real-time with their own gestures, achieving greater precision than would be offered, for example. , a keyboard or joystick control. 

“We are experts in several technologies, including sensitization, mixed reality, and digital twins. We integrated these developments to use Spot because we saw a need for automation and robotization processes in several industries.”, indicated Plain Concepts.

It is as if they ‘trained’ Spot. “The simile would be like when you buy a computer, which only comes with the operating system and barely does anything. We take that computer —the robot, in this case— and we adapt it to the specific needs of the clients so that it can carry out these data collection and reconnaissance missions”, mentions José Antonio Lozano, Innovation Sales Lead at Plain Concepts.

A mobile robot as versatile as Spot can work in all kinds of environments and move ‘like a human’ to do the most repetitive or exhausting tasks of a company’s day-to-day, while the staff is dedicated to jobs that really require talent.

The implementation of mixed reality in the robot means that, even if Spot detects a problem, it will be an expert and qualified operator who will assess it and seek an informed solution simply by putting on the VR glasses.

From these same glasses, you can also assess the status of the robot, for example, how much autonomy it has left, if it is at an optimal temperature, or if it is connected to the WiFi network. 

Its applied artificial intelligence allows it to make certain decisions, such as the fact that if its energy is running out, Spot returns to its battery charging port autonomously, as if it were a Roomba vacuum cleaner. Likewise, you can change your route if you come across an obstacle, be it a factory element, rougher terrain, humans working, or even other robots that prevent you from passing.

Also read: Sony Raises the Quality of Virtual Reality with PlayStation VR2

And What About Security?

At the beginning of this report, I mentioned the impression that Spot makes. He looks solid, powerful, and well-armed. And this precisely makes us somewhat suspicious thinking that this robot could turn against us.

Last October, the firm that created Spot, Boston Dynamics, made a public commitment that its robot dog would not be used as part of the military or allow weapons to be deployed on it.

The statement is a relief, especially for those of us who have seen Black Mirror. However, it should be noted that not only the engineering and robotics company owned by Hyundai works on this type of quadruped robot and others do seem to want to include these elements in the field of war.

Little can companies like Plain Concepts do to stop unethical intentions in the use of this equipment in terms of hardware. His role as a defense falls under the software part.

“All industrial robots have a lot of security layers,” says Javier Cantón, CTIO Plain Concepts, when asked about cybersecurity and the team ensures that “all established protocols” are followed.

It is an operating system that is only used in robots and whose barriers are mainly the use of encryption and virtual private networks. The goal is that no one outside the organization Spot works for can take control.

The CEO of Plain Concepts, Quique Martínez, adds that the software that the company has developed “works against the cloud” and they have relied on the National Intelligence Center (CNI) and Microsoft to publish guides on how to work safely in the Cloud environments so that everything is secure and avoid possible ‘hacks’.

Digital Twins

Plain Concepts has also introduced a system based on NeRF technology that evolves digital twins on a visual level.

In its commitment to digital twins as a key element in the transition to Industry 4.0, its technological solution will allow the creation of photorealistic digital twins quickly and easily, “something unique in the market when compared to other technologies”, they highlight.

Until now, digital twins have been 3D representations of real environments that, while they may be highly accurate, have an unappealing visual appearance, simple and with basic colors. 

In order to take the digital twin to a higher level of detail, Plain Concepts has used its Evergine 3D graphics engine to combine point cloud technology in a viewer, which offers millimeter-precision measurement data from a real environment from the capture of millions of points in space, with a visual layer of NeRF (Neural Radiance Field) technology, resulting in a photorealistic digital twin in a few minutes.

” NeRF is an innovative technology that is capable of recreating the elements of a scene with artificial intelligence to create a photorealistic 3D image that can be viewed from any point of view and from multiple devices. It represents an evolution of photogrammetry and is capable of correctly representing transparent or metallic objects with reflections. The application of NeRF to the digital twin will allow the creation of more detailed simulations and replicas, helping, for example, to make better decisions for the construction of buildings or the development of smart cities”, they explain from Plain Concepts.

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