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Robotic dogs could help with oil and gas safety

The Spot bot is looking for work in refineries, drilling sites and offshore oil rigs. They're capable of routine inspection, safety work and data collection.

HOUSTON — You may have seen some viral videos of dancing robots.

But, robots aren't just fun and games. This week, a pair of robot dogs are stealing the show at the World Petroleum Congress being held in Houston.

The electronic pooches, with their trademark coat of yellow paint, are named “Spot.” They were developed by MIT spinoff Boston Dynamics.

“We’ve had over 600 robots in the field in just over two years. There’s been a rapid uptick in adoptions across multiple industries,” oil and gas sales manager Chris McCasky said.

Now, the Spot bot is looking for work in refineries, drilling sites and offshore oil rigs. Hess Corporation did a trial run on an offshore rig for routine inspection, safety work and data collection, such as pressure readings.

One Spot model boasts a two-way radio and several onboard cameras.

“We have 30x zoom for seeing anomalies,” Jason Acerbi, with Houston distributer MFE, said.

That gives you a super up-close look at potential problems.

The cameras allow a remote operator to see and hear what Spot does. An acoustic device can also be mounted to help pinpoint the hiss of a leak. And yes, Spot’s hearing is way better than a human’s.

“It is listening for specific frequencies and displaying the leaks thru the camera,” Acerbi said.

If there is a problem, an operator can have Spot lend a hand. One model comes with jaws or clamps.

“It can open doors, pick up objects, even turn off electrical breakers or turn valves," McCasky said.

Spot starts at $112,000 for the basic model. They can be upgraded.

By the way, Spot also fetches. Spot can deliver a retrieved item to a specific location.

Industrial energy facilities were designed for people, not robots, so the quadra-ped design allows Spot to navigate like a human.