A version of this story first appeared on Duke Energy's storytelling website, illumination.
Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station has a new dog. “Spot” can sit, lay down and roll over. Unlike your average Rover, Spot is also trained to perform inspections of hard-to-access areas at the three-unit nuclear plant near Seneca, S.C.
Spot is the newest inspector gadget to join Oconee and Duke Energy Nuclear’s growing pack of robotic technology. Duke Energy’s nuclear plants are operating even more reliably and efficiently because employees are using new technology while producing carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Nuclear power is a key component as Duke Energy works toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
"The four-legged robot embodies the latest advances in self-awareness and collision avoidance," said Duke Energy radiation protection (RP) specialist Bill Meldrum.
If there's an object in its path, it will figure out how to move around it without a controller’s manipulation. Typically, the robot is led by a technician with a remote control, similar to a gaming device equipped with a camera and audio controls.
"It's extremely easy to operate, even up and down stairs," Meldrum said. "It has a mounted high-definition camera and has the strength and balancing ability to carry other payloads, such as monitoring equipment and laser scanners."
At Oconee, Spot’s abilities allow employees to perform inspections safely. Spot can enter a nuclear containment building while the unit is online producing electricity for nearly 2 million customers. The site is also considering how Spot can help inspect confined spaces and underground piping.
"Spot’s newest trick," Duke Energy RP specialist Bobby Leigh said, "is learning automation, which would allow it to perform routine inspections without controller manipulation. The robot can read QR codes and walk a programmed route, reading the codes as reference points." Leigh is training Spot to perform inspections of used nuclear fuel storage locations.
Spot is the first of its kind among Duke Energy’s six nuclear plants, but he’s one of several robotic technologies that Duke Energy Nuclear is using to develop modern tools and innovative strategies to support operations.