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Nuclear contract reveals Boston Dynamics' Spot robot dog costs

Lates UKAEA acquisition comes after Sellafield trials of Spot in 2021...

Ever wondered how much Boston Dynamics’ robot dog “Spot” costs for UK buyers?

A new contract notice from the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) for the premium Spot Enterprise robot dog, “SPOT Arm and all ancillary equipment” puts the number at £181,492 ($204,840) excluding VAT.

It has bought the four-legged robot from British multinational Atkins Ltd – one of just two distributors in the UK – and said in a brief contract award notice that it was “to operate in challenging environments.”

The Atomic Energy Authority conducts R&D into fusion energy amongst other core projects.

It aims to "demonstrate commercial viability of fusion by building a prototype fusion power plant in the UK that puts energy on the grid", creating levels of radiation that make human entry to plants impossible.

The UKEAE already works extensively on robotics via the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) centre – which develops "remote maintenance and robotics techniques for fusion and adjacent applications”-- and the RACE team already owns two Spot robots. In late 2021 it supported a three-day trial of the robot dogs with Sellafield Ltd at the Calder Hall nuclear power station, which is being decommissioned.

The building offers “challenging terrain in a risk-managed environment, providing ideal conditions to test Spot’s agility, scanning and radiation detection capabilities” RACE’s team said at the time. (The UK has a £100+ billion challenge to clean up its early nuclear legacy and its Nuclear Decommissioning Authority spends around £3 billion each year on behalf of the government to lead the clean-up and decommissioning work at 17 sites.)

See also: UK’s nuclear clean-up body eyes critical software refresh

A RACE robot inside the JET fusion centre.

Boston Dynamics’ Spot features “advanced mobility and perception to navigate stairs, gravel, and rough terrain while collecting 2D and 3D information with on board-sensors” as the manufacturer puts it.

Customers can add a wide range of payloads to enhance Spot’s sensing and data processing capabilities.

The robot arm that the UKAEA has also purchased lets users manually or semi-autonomously “grasp, lift, carry, place, and drag a wide variety of objects, including valve handles, door knobs, tools,” according to Boston Dynamics. APIs meanwhile give controllers the ability to engineer changes to controls including specifying joint angles, the “position, velocity, and force trajectories in Cartesian space” and specify other tasks.

The Spot Enterprise version includes self-charging capabilities and a dock for longer inspection tasks and “data collection missions with little to no human interaction” as well as “upgraded hardware for improved safety, communications, and behavior in remote environments” according to Boston Dynamics’ collateral.

The RACE team said in late September 2021 that “if successful, Spot could be deployed at locations across the Sellafield site to carry out routine tasks like inspections, mapping, data capture and characterisation. Maintenance” adding that they have been working with their two existing Spot devices on “applications for them in industrial locations where it’s difficult or unsafe to send humans” and had sent one to Ukraine to carry out a radiation mapping project at Chernobyl as part of a UKAEA-University of Bristol collaboration in 2020.

To those wondering how much does Boston Dynamics Spot cost, the contract notice is a useful insight into what UK buyers may have to spend for the full-fat version of the robot.

Hyundai Motor Group bought a controlling interest in Boston Dynamics from SoftBank in 2021 in a deal that valued the pioneering robotics company at $1.1 billion. The "dog" has a battery life of 90 minutes.

See also: MongoDB's co-founder launches robotics startup Viam