Robotic pup tested in East Bay could be the future of infrastructure inspection

Amanda del Castillo Image
Friday, June 9, 2023
This robotic pup could be the future of infrastructure inspection
A robotic dog named Spot is being tested in the East Bay as a tool to help with dangerous inspection operations typically performed by people.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A robotic dog is being tested in the East Bay as a tool to help with dangerous inspection operations typically performed by people.

They call it Spot - a tool engineers are hoping will pave the way for more robust inspections of underground and underwater infrastructure with less risk to humans.

"In the near future, we'll still be doing human inspection," Stephanie Matula told ABC7 News. "But we're looking at ways - and with UC Berkeley, they're looking at ways to use this technology - not just for us, but also for other types of inspections. Tunnels and beyond."

Matula is an Associate Civil Engineer in Tunnels and Transmission Pipelines for the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Similar to tech tools like drones with cameras and sensors used for years by the EBMUD when inspecting confined spaces, Spot is being tested to hopefully improve on those capabilities.

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"We don't do the physical inspections too often," Matula explained. "This one was last inspected in 1987. So this is a really great opportunity for us to go in and see how infrastructure's holding up, see if it needs any repairs - any immediate repairs."

By her calculations, she said the tunnel is looking pretty good.

Equipped with more sensors than a drone, and carrying 3D and stereo cameras with infrared components, Spot's tech should allow him to transmit more precise information about water tunnel conditions.

That was the goal Friday morning for all 7,000 feet of the Upper San Leandro Tunnel, which is 100 years old.

"It's difficult to go in," Wonjun Cha said. "And Spot is not that big and can carry many things and can go all the way and coming out is like a nice measurement."

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Cha is with UC Berkeley's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

He explained Spot is part of a collaboration between EBMUD and the university, deployed for a second day of testing.

Under remote control, engineers monitored Spot's WiFi range and tolerance to water and moisture. The robot is also able to detect air quality and algae growth.

"It's a little bit slippery, so we cannot make it into a fast walking, but once we make it into slow-mo and do some small calibrations inside, then we can make him walk in the water," Cha described.

Spot is the top dog in tech, touted for having transformative mobility.

Other industries which have activated Spot include construction, mining, public safety, and more- highlighting hard-to-reach places.

"For the general public just to understand where their water is coming from is pretty cool," Matula shared. "And bonus of also checking out this robot innovation."

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