One of LANL’s Spot robots wanders in the parking lot at Ohkay Owingeh last week where is was featured with Bradbury Science Museum’s ‘Challenge Tomorrow’ mobile units. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Young people take turns operating a LANL Spot robot last Wednesday in Espanola. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Last week, during the Los Alamos National Laboratory Community Conversations event at the Ohkay Hotel & Casino in Espanola, Bradbury Science Museum’s traveling science education experience “Challenge Tomorrow” was parked outside for community leaders from throughout the region to experience.
The two mobile exhibits were developed to travel to STEM events, schools and universities throughout the state offering hands-on activities for young and old to help them learn about what happens at LANL, who the people are who do the work and the reason they do it.
At last Wednesday’s event, the big hit was bright yellow Spot robots acquired by LANL in the past year to determine their suitability to supporting staff with tasks that are potentially risky or require precision detection. The “dogs” nimbly made their way around inside a fenced are of the hotel parking lot next to the Challenge Tomorrow mobile unit to everyone’s delight.
“Similar to living dogs that support police work, these robotic platforms have performed remarkably well in testing and have great potential to make the laboratory a safer and more enjoyable place to work,” said Jeff Hyde, principal investigator of LANL’s Storage Robotics Program.
Hyde said working with the four Spot robots has been extremely fun and satisfying to the point that he tells people he has the best job in the lab.
“Their ability to traverse difficult terrain, avoid obstacles, and their remarkable durability has greatly improved my autonomous applications,” he said.
Hyde noted that creating these applications can be challenging as they touch on many aspects of engineering, including mechanical, electrical, nuclear and require in depth software programming.
“But at the end of the day when the robot is executing tasks looking like something out of a science fiction movie it is well worth the effort,” he said.
Boston Dynamics, the manufacturer of the Spot robots, says they walk by perceiving their environment and dynamically navigating obstacles. Whether operating on pre-programmed routes or being driven by an operator, Spot robots can traverse uneven or cramped spaces which wheeled robots or drones struggle to access.
Visitors gather outside one of the Bradbury Science Museum’s mobile ‘Challenge Tomorrow’ units. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Spot robot on the run Wednesday. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
A Spot robot negotiates traffic cones in the parking lot. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Lina Germann of STEM Santa Fe visits the Challenge Tomorrow mobile unit. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Visitors check out a manipulating arm in the Challenge Tomorrow mobile unit. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com