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Boston Dynamics, IBM Team Up to Improve Industrial Operations

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Image: Boston Dynamics

IBM and Boston Dynamics have announced a new partnership to improve industrial operations by delivering data analysis at the edge. This will help companies improve worker safety, optimize field operations, and boost maintenance productivity in environments such as manufacturing facilities, power plants, warehouses, and more. 

An IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) survey revealed that 56 percent of manufacturers have implemented AI-driven robotics to make autonomous decisions. On the other hand, 83% agree that intelligent automation can be used to help their organization improve business results and overcome strategic challenges. One hurdle is that these businesses also believe most edge and IoT devices are stationary, inflexible, and in many cases, incapable of responding to rapidly changing environments. 

Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robot

By leveraging the AI and hybrid cloud innovations from IBM Research, IBM Consulting is developing edge payloads that integrate with Boston Dynamics’ mobile robot called Spot. 

Boston Dynamics and IBM are working toward turning Spot into an intelligent roaming edge device, which is crucial as more industrial organizations are utilizing robotics. The companies are designing Spot in a way that will allow operations staff to have greater flexibility to inspect and monitor equipment with dynamic sensing. 

National Grid

National Grid is a leading electric and gas utility that serves the areas of Massachusetts and New York, and it has been testing the new technology. Spot is conducting regular autonomous inspections at National Grid sites. 

With the integration of IBM advanced AI, insights can be extracted from processed data, enabling faster response times when an issue is detected. In collaboration, the three companies are field testing a near real-time inference capability that incorporates thermovisual analysis from inspection data, which is collected by Spot. This will help them identify problems that could lead to equipment failures and power outages. With edge data processing, National Grid can detect problems right away and automatically notify maintenance staff.

Companies like National Grid will now look to make all of the data useful without the need of hours of manual interpretation or the use of disjointed analytics tools in a backend process. IBM enables the analytics and AI to interpret data in near real-time while utilizing dashboards and integration with an enterprise asset management (EAM) system. 

This new collaboration will also look to provide the Spot robot with new capabilities, including the ability to generate an automated work order or send alerts to initiate corrective actions. 

Spot can address safety concerns for inspectors, especially when it comes to hazardous areas. It can also equip operations managers with near real-time insights on equipment health, which will improve equipment function and uptime. Besides these applications, Spot can also increase productivity gains for these organizations, which means less time on basic inspection rounds and a team that has more time to focus on other work.

Alex McFarland is a historian and journalist covering the newest developments in artificial intelligence.