Millions of school American children in the 1950s and 1960s remember the phrase “see Spot run” from the introduction books that helped them learn to read while in first grade. Today, however, “see Spot run” has evolved to “see Spot climb steps, jump rope, open doors, search and identify, capture data and even throw a switch and drag a cement block.”

Built by Boston Dynamics, Spot is a dog-like robot designed to navigate myriad different terrains with exceptional mobility to conduct a variety of missions including conducting surveys, collecting information and inspecting equipment. The U.S. Navy is currently studying Spot’s capabilities to see if it’s a fit for the naval service.

“The Navy is always looking for tools and techniques that can help it accomplish its mission better, faster, cheaper, and safer,” said Dr. Mark Bilinski, director science and technology at the Navy Warfare Information Center (NIWC) in San Diego. “Spot shows promise for being able to potentially do a lot of things like going into hazardous spaces instead of a sailor or automating mundane tasks to free up sailors to do more important things.”

Spot the Robot Dog dazzles Midway visitors.

Spot, weighing approximately 70 pounds, is designed to go into locations too dangerous or risky for humans, and can operate in extreme weather and temperature conditions. Programmed with obstacle avoidance and height detection that maps in front of the robot, Spot can determine what its next step should be without input from its operator, and does so in a nano-second.

Already operational in 35 countries, Spot is currently being used to collect data on structural and safety issues in Italy at the ancient ruins of Pompeii and by the Ukrainian military to remove mortar shells and cluster munitions in formerly Russian-controlled areas near its capital city of Kyiv.

In an effort to put Spot through its paces, USS Midway Museum jumped at the chance to help the Navy with its testing.

“Midway offers a quick and easy access platform to test new systems and equipment that can be rapidly deployed for the active duty military,” said Len Santiago, Midway’s chief engineer. “We provide a unique opportunity for Navy scientists to investigate emerging technology.”

Boston Dynamics has been developing robots that, due to their natural movements, have the ability to appropriately react in complicated and dynamic environments. The Navy already knew from earlier testing that Spot could navigate in cramped spaces, so it wanted to see how it would operate on a ship.

“We wanted to see how Spot would perform in shipboard environments,” said Mark, who has been with NIWC for a decade. “We suspected it would perform well, but you never really know unless you try it out. You’re not going to encounter hatches and knee knockers anywhere else.”

Spot hit the deck running – literally. The quadrupedal robot spent hours on Midway traversing much of the ship from narrow passageways, awkward hatches and tricky stairwells to different surfaces on the flight and hangar decks.

Spot checks out Midway’s berthing compartment.

“It did really well,” said Mark, a San Diegan who graduated from Vista High School. “It had no problem with the various surfaces, from nonskid to deck plates, and it navigated passageways with ease, adjusting for and overcoming the knee knockers, which are more imposing when you’re as close to the ground as Spot is.”

“It additionally did really well in extremely tight quarters, in areas not much larger than itself,” said Dan Jennings, an engineer who works in unmanned systems integration and testing at NIWC. “We also tested the ‘touch to go feature’ around some very tight obstacles that it had trouble with in manual control. It plotted itself a path around the obstacle with ease.”

Spot helping Midway’s safety team.

While Spot was impressing Navy evaluators, it was also wowing surprised Midway visitors, many of whom had a hard time believing what they were seeing.

“Spot was adored by staff, docents, children, and parents alike,” said Dan, who has been with NIWC for six years and earned a mechanical engineering degree from San Diego State University. “There were many photo ops and many parents encouraging their children that this is the kind of thing they can do if they stay focused at school.”

Midway proved to be an ideal setting for real-world testing for the Navy.

“The Midway has been instrumental in advancing our research and development efforts,” said, said Mark, who holds a doctorate in mathematics. “It is simply amazing and is an indispensable resource in helping us speed capability to the fleet. The Midway Museum continues to serve and we’re thrilled to have such an excellent partner.”

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