“Spot” is tested on Enterprise (CVN 65) at Newport News Shipbuilding.

“Robot Dog” Evaluated for Use at NNS

Published December 21, 2022

This fall, shipbuilders may have noticed a strange four-legged “animal” in their work areas. That’s because Business Transformation and Technology (BT&T) was performing tests of the Boston Dynamics “Spot” autonomous robotics platform.

Autonomous functionality means that Spot can determine its own route, stay within an area, run patrols on its own, and even avoid obstacles and change tasks (depending on its environment). Often nicknamed the “robot dog,” Spot was evaluated in several areas for its ability to support shipyard functions like inspection, rescue recovery and data collection. In partnership with Nuclear Propulsion (E81), Dogfish Labs (T55) coordinated a two-day testing event to investigate Spot’s ability to perform tasks in shipboard environments, confined spaces, emergency mock-ups and office buildings.

“It exceeded my expectations,” said nuclear engineer Ryan White (E81). “The ease by which Spot was able to be controlled, its spatial recognition features and its smart sensing technology allowed it to perform simple and complex functions, which included opening a water-tight door and operating a valve.”

Newport News Shipbuilding uses many robotics systems on the waterfront today for cutting, welding, movement operations and more. Spot introduces a new capability that is not only mobile, but autonomous. “These autonomous systems are an expensive investment, and we wanted to test drive Spot in our unique environments before considering any potential tech adoption in the yard,” said Dan McPeters (E59/T55), a Dogfish Labs IT software engineer.

Evaluation showed that Spot would be most valuable in unsafe environments that are high-risk to personnel, as well as performing repetitive tasks. Another advantage Spot could bring to NNS is real-time data gathering. “The ability to send Spot somewhere and get information back quickly and make fast decisions, especially from an emergency response perspective, is a huge ‘pro’ for my group,” said nuclear engineer Sara Freiert (E82).

Dogfish Labs is interested in any other potential use cases that fellow shipbuilders think Spot could help perform. Shipbuilders with questions or ideas should reach out to Dan McPeters via email. For more about Spot, check out the Spot Robot Demo video.

“Reviewing emerging technology is why NNS is still in business today,” said Principal Engineering Manager Doug Mintz (E02).