Spot follows hot on the heels of Lady Skywalker

You’ll be forgiven if you think Spot® is the adorable Beagle pup looking for his friends behind the flaps in a popular children’s book. Our Spot® is a four-legged robotic dog capable of navigating terrain with unprecedented agility. In other words, it can walk through a challenging environment and decide how and where to move next on its own. It can climb stairs, and a firm kick in the side will not let it lose its balance. Furthermore, Spot® can capture data safely, accurately and frequently while autonomously performing routine inspection tasks, such as reading gauges and detecting heat, vibrations and gas.

Developed by Boston Dynamics in the United States, Spot® takes part in a research project conducted in the Media Lab by Dominic Roux, a master’s student in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University. His research project is supervised by Prof Thinus Booysen and funded by Trevali Mining Corporation.

Like training a dog for service, Dominic is equipping Spot® with new specialist skills by creating a machine-learning algorithm to perform inspections in an industrial environment. “I’m investigating the technical viability of using machine learning as part of an autonomous inspection methodology intended for industrial settings, such as a mining plant. As part of my investigation, I’m using Spot® as an autonomous data collection tool due to its robust SLAM capabilities and reliable user-robot interfacing.”

Imagine yourself exploring a cave in the mountains and getting trapped inside. Rescuers could approach you, but they are not sure if it is safe for them to go in. However, Spot® can enter the cave and take photos of the environment. Dominic’s algorithm can then analyse these photos, compile reports and help find solutions.

Like Spot®, Lady Skywalker, the greyhound noticed on the skyline of the Engineering Building’s roof in January after the Christmas holidays, had to be equipped with special skills to prepare her for life as a family pet. After mysteriously being trapped on the roof and having kept herself alive for a few weeks by drinking rainwater and catching unwary pigeons, the emaciated hound was put in the care of Sighthound Rescue South Africa (SRSA). SRSA, who specialises in training and rehoming greyhounds, named her Lady Skywalker. They welcomed the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering’s sponsorship of her food for a year.

Shy and skittish, Sky had to learn to trust people and other dogs. In foster care, she was patiently housetrained, taught to ride in a car, walk on a lead, enjoy the beach, return when recalled, get over her food aggression and overcome Sleep Startle Syndrome. In short, how to be a star family pet. In May, after months of rehabilitation, Sky found her forever home when a doting family and gentle dog brother adopted her!

Photograph: Spot® (left) and Lady Skywalker (right)

Image credit: ???? Mental Floss and Caroline Hartley Photography