Canadian Biomass Magazine

A robotic dog is on inspection duty at Drax’s biomass power plant

October 11, 2023
By Drax Group

Photo: Drax Group

Drax Power Station, Britain’s single-largest renewable power generator, has a new four-legged friend to help sniff out hazards to keep people safe. Sparky, a state-of-the-art robotic dog, has joined the plant and will carry out inspections and capture critical data on machinery.

The robodog has joined Drax’s Condition Based Maintenance team to spot potential failures on the plant before they happen. The bright yellow dog is fitted with a camera which enables it to conduct critical visual and thermal inspections on equipment such as hot boilers while its human controllers are kept safe away from the equipment.

As Sparky gets familiar with the plant, he will be programmed to follow tailored routes around the site. This will enable him to operate autonomously, enhancing efficiency even further.

Ensuring the safety, health, and wellbeing of people on site is the company’s top priority. Drax’s investment in Sparky is part of a wider drive to improve safety standards across the company’s global operations.


Richard Barber, Maintenance Systems Lead Engineer, said: “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. 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. 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.”

Sparky will have plenty of room to roam around, with Drax Power Station being one of the country’s largest industrial sites. The plant near Selby has four operational power generating units, each as high as a 15-storey office block, a main chimney nearly as tall as the London Shard, and more than 1,800 miles of steel tubing, enough to stretch from John O’Groats to Land’s End and back again.

The four-legged friend is the brainchild of Boston Dynamics, an American engineering and robotics design company which started as a spin-off from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Sparky is part of the Spot pedigree of robodogs from the firm.

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