This year has already been fairly apocalyptic. Between wildfires, a pandemic, and civil unrest, 2020 has offered plenty of variation when it comes to upheaval. However, few things have the bone-chilling, dystopian feel of a robotic dog exploring a nuclear wasteland.
No, it isn’t the script for the next big thriller. It is what’s happening right now at Chernobyl.
A team of researchers from the University of Bristol has sent Spot, Boston Dynamics’ famous quadruped robot, into the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. The goal of the mission is to keep an eye on radiation levels without putting humans at risk.
New Age Scanning
The Chernobyl reactor meltdown is one of the worst man-made disasters in human history. It spewed lethal doses of radiation into the environment, killing some 50 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of others. To this day, the effects are still felt in the area.
The site isn’t totally abandoned, though. Workers are finding new ways to clean up and contain the radiation and the exclusion zone has become—of all things—an unofficial animal sanctuary as four-legged creatures return without human interference.
The latest four-legged thing to enter Chernobyl is no animal, although Spot looks somewhat like a dog thanks to its four legs and agile movements.
Currently, the robot is exploring the New Safe Confinement, a massive steel dome meant to prevent radiation from spreading. It is tasked with surveying radiation levels to help create a three-dimensional map of how it is distributed within the dome.
Spot is essentially the perfect robot for the job. The quadruped is far better at moving than most robots and can get to hard-to-reach areas. Moreover, it doesn’t take damage from radiation, making it a far better alternative than sending in humans.
Reports say that the Bristol team is also experimenting with other forms of tech as it continues to survey the radiation-laden dome. Flying drones and various remote sensors are helping to survey the damage alongside Spot.
Proving Its Worth
Boston Dynamics’ four-legged robot has proven that it is a very valuable machine in a number of different industries. The Massachusetts-based company finally released the robot to the public in June at a retail price of $74,500. That opened the door for companies and research teams alike to get their hands on the one-of-a-kind quadruped.
It quickly found uses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, doctors used it to perform remote triage on patients seeking treatment for COVID-19. They outfitted the robot with a tablet to communicate with patients as it ventured through the triage area. Researchers are continuing to pursue ways that the robot could be used even more effectively—such as by cleaning rooms with a UV-C light attachment.
In Singapore, Spot was used to encourage social distancing between pedestrians that got too close together. It roamed around a local park and played a pre-recorded message to remind visitors to stay six-feet apart.
Of course, its most recent use is probably the craziest. The thought of robotic dogs prowling a nuclear wasteland seems scary. Fortunately, the robots are on our side this time.