Virginia Tech

Spot, a mobile robot dog, monitors construction site progress at Virginia Tech

May 20, 2021
Construction management students and researchers navigate Spot via remote control.

Virginia Tech researchers are unleashing an autonomous robot dog on university construction sites to investigate the applications of using robots to monitor construction progress.

Faculty and students from the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, within the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and College of Engineering, are partnering with the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities and Procon Consulting to deploy Spot, a mobile robot dog developed by Boston Dynamics, to conduct this innovative research.

The experimental investigation is exploring whether construction progress monitoring--a traditionally human-dependent, labor-intensive, and error-prone process--can be improved by leveraging autonomous robotic technology to lead the systematic collection of data in construction environments.

Six months into the yearlong study, the team has published its initial findings.

“Introducing robotic technologies on construction sites can offer many exciting opportunities," said Kereshmeh Afsari, assistant professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the project’s principal investigator. "The ability to monitor construction progress remotely through autonomous means is a prime example. Other opportunities are improving the accuracy of data collection, accessing hard-to-reach or hazardous job sites, and diverting human capital capacity to other tasks."

Three construction sites on the Blacksburg campus are serving as the study’s backdrop: the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning CommunityHolden Hall, and the Student Athlete Performance Center.

Within the job sites, construction management students and researchers navigate Spot via remote control. They capture hundreds of 360-degree photographs of construction progress using the camera and HoloBuilder construction monitoring app mounted atop the dog.

To automate the data collection process, 2D floor plans are loaded into the app, and the operator marks the locations where data will be collected. The operator also records the robot’s navigation paths within the app for future use. The data gathered within the app is analyzed for accuracy and communicated among all project stakeholders.

Experts on the capital construction team are working with the research team to enable the deployment of legged robots on hazardous and dynamically changing construction sites.

Also, general contractors managing the construction of these projects, including W.M. Jordan Company and Branch Builds, have been working closely with the research team to investigate autonomous robot navigation and monitor weekly progress on the job sites.

The research project is expected to conclude in fall 2021. 

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