A robotic “dog” has been utilized by the National Trust to survey two Cold War weapons testing facilities, marking a first for the organization. The buildings being surveyed are located at Orford Ness, Suffolk, which is now a national nature reserve but was formerly a military testing site. Due to safety concerns, the laboratories are closed to the public and staff, making it a challenge for the National Trust to access and record the important structures.
The use of drones and a mobile robot, nicknamed Spot, developed by Boston Dynamics, allowed the National Trust to capture the size and geometry of the buildings. Colin Evison, from BAM Nuttall, the company operating the robot, explained that the goal was to survey the buildings without endangering human lives. The project is a collaboration between the National Trust, Historic England, BAM Nuttall, and University College London.
The laboratories, known as pagodas, were constructed in 1960 and were utilized as test cells for conducting environmental tests on the atomic bomb. These tests were designed to simulate the conditions that a weapon might undergo before detonation, including vibrations, extreme temperatures, shocks, and G forces. The structures were built with a shingle top to absorb and dissipate energy in the event of a catastrophic explosion. While the tests did not involve nuclear materials, failures during the testing process could have resulted in disastrous consequences.
The use of robotics and drones allows for detailed surveys of the buildings without endangering human lives. Additionally, the data collected will be used to create virtual recreations of the structures, allowing people to experience the interiors of these historically significant buildings. This technology provides a means for accessing and recording buildings that are otherwise inaccessible, preserving their history for future generations.
Sources: National Trust, BAM Nuttall