Robot dog 'Spot' to survey M5 motorway and other major West Country roads

  • This National Highways video shows 'Spot' in action.

Drivers in the South West may soon see a robot dog that has been employed to survey roads in the region. 

'Spot', has been fully trained at National Highways' development centre in the Cotswolds and is already being tested on the M5 in Somerset.

National Highways said data gathered will inform future operations across the network, such as the St George's railway bridge in Bristol, which is currently being assessed for repairs.

Spot will be surveying major roads across the West Country. Credit: National Highways

Spot will be used to monitor steep-sided embankments and natural slopes, slopes beneath tree canopies or otherwise obscured by vegetation, culverts, and under bridges and other structures. 

Highways believe it provides a safer and more cost-effective option in inaccessible areas, where human inspectors face challenges and risks.

The AECOM and BAM teams put Spot through its paces at National Highways’ Development Centre at Moreton-in-Marsh last summer, testing it's capabilities across numerous highways settings, different ground conditions, and grounds of varying heights, gradients and materials.

The teams say they are keen to explore and test the technology further and the company is examining more locations for other geotechnical surveys throughout the year.

Guy Swains, engineering manager within National Highways’ South West geotechnical team, said: “The initial, ‘proof of concept’ testing has been encouraging and we’re now live trialling the robotic tool with a view to utilising it via our contractors in future survey work, particularly in locations which present challenges for our traditional methods.

“Our structures team are currently working on renewing certain elements of the St Georges railway bridge between junctions 20 and 21 of the M5, and identified a number of geotechnical defects in the ground surface.

“We were brought in to look into the detailed visual inspection and felt it provided an ideal opportunity to give Spot its first run.

“As part of an ongoing exploration, Spot’s capabilities will be tested over a variety of terrains and environments and in differing weather and ground conditions.

“The data from the trials will also be captured and analysed and dependent on results, hopefully we’ll be able to measure an improvement in safety methods and efficiencies and employ the technology in our future work.”

Matt Ewing, BAM Ritchies’ business development manager, said: “Technology can keep our people safe and repeatedly capture high-quality data, and having Spot undertake these trials demonstrates capability and evidence for further trials while making efficiencies in the delivery of work today.

“It’s about finding the right applications, and the team is focused on realising Spot’s potential.”