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FHV research welcomes robot dog as new team member

Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group hands over the SPOT mobile robot dog to the Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences for further cooperation with the research facilities of the FHV at Campus V.

"The handover of the SPOT robot dog is a sign of the successful and close cooperation with leading companies in Vorarlberg. Together, we are driving digitization forward. The SPOT enriches our research teams and provides support in exciting future topics," Stefan Fitz-Rankl, university management of the FHV, expressed his thanks on the occasion of the handover.

The donation of the high-tech tool continues a successful and long-term partnership, which on the one hand advances scientific work and on the other hand develops practical solutions. "The FHV trains highly qualified future employees. It is of great concern to us to bring these young professionals of tomorrow into contact with state-of-the-art technology today," explains Hubert Rhomberg, Member Owner Board Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group (RSRG), and emphasizes: "In this way, we are following our credo that knowledge can only increase if it is also shared."

Data utilization as a competitive advantage
SPOT is a mobile and agile robot from Boston Dynamics and represents a versatile sensor platform. The device has been extensively tested and used for applications with a variety of sensors. "The robot is a good example of our innovation activity in the field of maintenance and new construction of railroad infrastructure," explains Garry Thür, CTO Rhomberg Sersa Rail Group. SPOT has so far been used, for example, at the Eppenberg Tunnel and Flamatt-Laupen construction sites of the Swiss Federal Railways or for track inspections in the rail network. The robot took over photo documentation and surveying for construction site inspections, determining construction progress and quality assurance, as well as scanning tunnel profiles.

"We are continuously developing the support of our operational business areas with powerful digital solutions, because the acquisition and use of large volumes of data will be a decisive competitive advantage in the future," says Thür, looking ahead.

SPOT as a risk minimizer
As part of further development work, RSRG is planning various digital-based uses of the robot on the digital construction site together with the FHV, for example as a mobile sensor for hazardous gases and quantity control of construction materials in tunnel construction.

SPOT supports this as a risk minimizer by safely exploring and monitoring such environments. "SPOT opens up the possibility for us to combine advanced robotics with the latest developments in sensor technology and data analysis and to explore, even push, their limits," explains Fadi Dohnal, head of the FHV's microtechnology research centre. Another focus is the use of the robot as a mobile sensor platform in environmental sensing. In the future, the microtechnology research centre will investigate the soil quality of fields or the tree health in forests with the help of the robot dog. The basis for this is data collection and transmission.

Added value through intelligent algorithms
Wireless data transmission, data organization and data analysis using artificial intelligence are the core topics of Digital Factory Vorarlberg GmbH, a joint venture between FH Vorarlberg and the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. The data that SPOT will collect in the future will be transmitted in real time from the mobile point of use to state-of-the-art data ecosystems by using 5G networks. "Data ecosystems allow cross-organizational control of data usage by different participants while maintaining the highest possible data security," explains Robert Merz, university management of Digital Factory Vorarlberg.

"The focus is on secure data storage and the principle that data remains with its owners. With such systems, it is also possible to make some of the data available to a broad community as Open Data. Data not intended for the public naturally remains accessible only to authorized persons." The Digital Factory Vorarlberg team is also working on developing intelligent algorithms for evaluating the data to generate added value from it. "We cover a broad range of data analysis, applying the best methods in each case, from statistics to artificial intelligence," Merz concludes.