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Robot dog starts maintenance patrols at Drax power station

28 September, 2023

One of Boston Dynamics’ Spot “robot dogs” has started to patrol Drax power station near Selby in Yorkshire to carry out inspections and capture critical data on machinery at the site.

The robot dog – nicknamed Sparky – is helping Drax’s condition-based maintenance team to spot potential failures at the plant before they happen. It is fitted with a camera which enables it to conduct visual and thermal inspections of equipment such as boilers, allowing humans to stay a safe distance away.

As the robot becomes familiar with the plant, it will be programmed to follow tailored routes around the site, allowing it to operate autonomously, thus enhancing its efficiency further.

Drax’s investment in the robot is part of a wider drive to improve safety standards across the company’s global operations.

“A robotic dog might not be what you have in mind when you think about safety, but Sparky is a real game-changer for us,” says Drax’s maintenance systems lead engineer, Richard Barber. “The technology enables our team to collect better information about our equipment, while also keeping our colleagues out of harm’s way.

“Its optical panoramic camera allows us to zoom in-depth on equipment and it is fitted with a thermal infrared camera, which means we can see any hot spot or unusual thermal anomalies on the machinery,” he adds. “We want to prevent faults from happening, not simply repair them when they occur. With Sparky on patrol at the power station, we will be able to do just that.”

The 2,595MW Drax Power Station supplies 5% of the UK’s electricity needs. It has four generators, each as high as a 15-storey office block, a main chimney nearly as tall as the London Shard, and around 3,000km of steel tubing.

Drax power station is now patrolled by a robot dog that inspects the vast facility

The facility, which is fuelled using wood pellets, bills itself as at UK’s largest renewable power station, but some critics have cast doubts on the green credentials of a plant that relies on imported fuel and emits more CO2 than any other UK facility. 

The operators say that the station provides a secure, reliable and flexible source of renewable energy to support intermittent renewables such as wind and solar power, and that its use of biomass pellets reduces carbon emissions by 80% compared to coal.

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