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IBM and Boston Dynamics team up for mobile edge analytics

27 October, 2021

IBM and Boston Dynamics have formed an alliance to deliver data analysis at the edge to help industrial companies improve safety, optimise field operations, and boost maintenance productivity in environments such as factories, power plants, warehouses and more. They plan to transform Boston Dynamic’s robot “dog” Spot into an intelligent roaming edge device, designed to give industrial staff more flexibility to inspect and monitor their equipment with dynamic sensing.

According to IBM, most existing edge and IoT devices are stationary, inflexible and often incapable of responding to rapidly changing environments. IBM’s Consulting business will use AI and hybrid cloud innovations from IBM Research to develop edge payloads that integrate with Boston Dynamics' Spot. IBM will apply its tools and expertise in edge, 5G, security and hybrid cloud.

The partners argue that industrial users will benefit from the collaboration in several important ways:
• the mobile robots can help address safety concerns for inspections in hard-to-reach or hazardous areas;
• operations managers will get near-real-time insights into their equipment health so they can initiate actions that improve performance and uptime; and
• the improved productivity will allow operators to spend less time on inspection, instead using Spot to conduct inspections consistently and frequently, and freeing up staff to focus on higher value work.

The new sensing capabilities will scale across multiple sites and many types of equipment. A key to this scaling will be integration with client asset management systems, such as IBM’s Maximo Application Suite which helps companies to monitor, manage and maintain their assets.

In a pilot project, National Grid, a US electricity and gas utility that serves Massachusetts and New York, has been testing the new technology. Spot is conducting regular autonomous inspections at National Grid sites, with IBM’s AI adding a layer of actionable intelligence by processing the data into meaningful insights that will allow faster response times if issues are detected.

The three companies are working together to field-test a near-real-time inferencing capability that incorporates thermovisual analysis of inspection data collected by Spot. This analysis should help to identify hotspots and other problems with components that, if not corrected, could cause serious equipment failures and power outages.

National Grid plans to use edge data processing to detect issues immediately, automatically notifying its maintenance staff even before the robot completes a round. In future, the collaboration aims to add new capabilities such as the ability to generate automated work orders or to send alerts to initiate corrective actions.

Pilot trials of IBM and Boston Dynamics’ mobile edge technology are already underway at National Grid sites

IBM points out that some industrial companies are already using mobile robots to gather massive amounts of equipment data in a highly reliable, repeatable way, in collaboration with human operators. The next challenge is to make the data useful without requiring hours of manual interpretation or by using “disjointed” analytical tools in a back-end process.

IBM says that its analytics and AI will be able to interpret data in near real-time and to drive actions via dashboards and integration with enterprise asset management systems.

According to an IBM survey, 56% of manufacturers have already implemented AI-driven robotics to make autonomous decisions, while 83% agree that intelligent automation will help their organisations to meet strategic challenges and improve business results.

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