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Utah Business

Data center security is being changed forever with robotic dogs created by BYU,

This robot dog can patrol your data center (and wish you good morning)

If you visit the 100-acre Novva Data Center in West Jordan, don’t be surprised if a friendly dog greets you. It won’t be just any dog, though—while the Novva guard dog walks around on four legs (and even sleeps in a doghouse), it’s a robot. Designed to monitor the campus, these Novva dogs enforce access to buildings and check the temperatures of machines across campus. 

“Data centers have gone through a few evolutions,” says Wes Swenson, founder and CEO of Novva Data Centers, who brought Boston Dynamics’ robot technology to the Novva campus and worked with BYU Engineering to adapt it for the needs of the large data center. “The scale that’s required today is quite different from what it was even a decade ago. Novva’s aim was to build much larger-scale data centers. When you do a 100-acre campus like we’re doing in West Jordan, it’s a lot of territory to cover from a physical security and authorization standpoint.” 

Data center temperatures must be checked regularly to ensure the machines are functioning correctly. Novva’s large campuses are difficult for human personnel to patrol regularly, Swenson says. The robot dogs can help—not just with security but also with gaining reliable temperature readings. 

Like any good dog, Novva’s robotic dog needed a good name. The standard Boston Dynamics robotic dog is referred to as “Spot.” After the BYU engineers adapted the technology to Novva’s specifications, the dog was renamed WIRE, an acronym for “Wes’ Industrious Robotic Employee.” 

“To work on developing Boston Dynamics’ Spot into a patrol dog for Novva was so exciting,” says Joey LeCheminant, one of the BYU engineers who worked on the project. “We got to help make Spot what it is today. The team worked daily to interface several different applications that we developed on Spot together.”

Evan Berger was another member of the BYU team working with the robot. Thanks to Berger’s efforts, when a Novva employee runs into WIRE on Novva’s campus, the dog can greet the employee by name and wish them a good afternoon or good morning.

“My role on the project was to program the robot with a facial recognition code that would scan for human bodies and faces, greet the recognized patrons, and alert security for any unrecognized patrons,” Berger says.

Not your average dog

Large-scale data centers come with large-scale problems, and patrolling the facility is one of them. Novva’s robots are equipped with lidar and infrared detection as well as a 360-degree camera. They’re programmed to run missions within the data center, then return to their doghouse to recharge themselves. 

“The obstacle avoidance is so impressive that even when you are driving it with the controller, you can command it straight into a wall and it will not hit the wall,” LeChaminant says. “We frequently enjoyed giving it a shove with our foot to watch it not fall over. It is possible for it to fall over or trip sometimes, but it knows exactly how to collect itself and pick itself back up from any position.”

Swenson says the advanced technology that made WIRE possible must be seen in person to be fully comprehended. “They can walk upstairs. They can walk sideways,” he says. “They avoid people and objects in their way. It’s a fascinating technology.”

The type of technology that brought WIRE to life was, until recently, much less accessible. In the past, a robot with skills of this caliber could have set a company back by as much as $1-2 million. Now, thanks to advancements in technology, any person or company can acquire a robotic dog for around $100K. 

Robo-dog’s best friend: an autonomous drone

Dogs aren’t the only robots on Novva’s campus—autonomous drones work with the dogs to patrol the facility. And soon enough, the dogs and drones will be able to do more than just patrol the facility together.

“Next year, we expect to receive robots that have external limbs that will be able to open doors for each other,” Swenson says. “The robots will eventually be able to go in and out of doors by pairing up and assisting each other. Eventually, if they need to investigate something on the ground, the robot dogs will coordinate with the drones and work together.”

Do more robots mean fewer humans?

The robots on Novva’s campus are meant to complement the roles of security personnel, Swenson says, making their jobs easier. “Some people ask me, will it replace humans, and is it displacing jobs? It’s actually quite the opposite,” he says. “It takes quite a bit of programming to run these robots. It takes quite a bit of manpower. We like it because it takes away some of the mundane tasks. It’s a bit of a relief for them because this is a big data center, so running the robot or the drone can save us a lot of time and energy.”

For example, LeCheminant says, an operator can show the dogs exactly where to walk—up and down the hundreds of yards of data storage computers—then tell it to repeat that same route as many times as its battery will allow. “This saves a human from that long, repetitious procedure, which is better suited for a robot,” he says.

Through the combination of Boston Dynamics’ tech, BYU engineers’ time, and Novva’s innovative thinking, robot patrol dogs are no longer just an idea out of a movie. “Because of cinema, we’re shaped to think it’s the dystopian future,” Swenson says. “Our perception of robots is negative. But if you think of all of the transactions within the silicon chip to move the arms and legs to walk, it’s a great testament to human innovation.”