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Cutting edge airport robotics


Aviad Amalgor reports on the use of one of Boston Dynamics’ autonomous robot dogs during the ongoing revamp of Denver International Airport’s Great Hall.

Performing construction work in an operating airport is a complex and challenging project. Doing so in one of the busiest airports in the world is even more demanding and requires an experienced team and innovative approach.

The massive renovation project of Denver International Airport’s (DEN) Great Hall falls under this category. The multiple phase project focuses on increasing open space within the airport, improving customer experience, and enabling safer and intuitive passenger flows.

The current phase of the project focuses on the centre of the terminal with new ticketing pods and checked baggage systems. To handle the complex logistics and the challenges in this demanding project, DEN selected Hensel Phelps as the general contractor and construction management partner.

The pre-planning process

A key aspect for success in such projects is a thorough pre-planning process. This process helps reveal undocumented assets, resolve potential safety issues, identify deviations from existing documentation of the as-built situation, and solve discrepancies between the site conditions and the design.

Hensel Phelps uses laser scanners throughout the construction project for quality and production control. During pre-planning, the scanners are used to capture the details of the existing structure, a method that provides rich and highly accurate output and eliminates the labour-intensive manual measurement process.


On a project such as the DEN terminal area, multiple scans are needed to capture the as-built conditions. The scanner operator is traditionally required to carry the optical equipment and a tripod from one point to the other and wait at each point for the scan to be completed, exposed to the complex workspace environment.

A full set of scans can take several hours, or even days, to complete. To help overcome the current workflow limitations, further improve data collection efficiency and the safety of the on-site team, Hensel Phelps decided to explore the use of robots in the scanning process.

A robot dog by Boston Dynamics, equipped with an integrated Trimble X7 scanner, was deployed on the project, performing scans, and capturing 360-degree images of the site

Spot is a quadruped robot with spatial perception. It can carry up to 30lbs of payload and manoeuvre in unstructured and dynamic environments such as construction sites.

Trimble X7 is a compact, high-speed 3D laser scanner. The X7 produces point clouds with up to 2mm scanning accuracy and high-res panoramic images. Its unique auto-calibration, self-levelling, and automatic in-field registration capabilities are a requirement for an autonomous scanning workflow.

The workflow

The combination of Spot with the Trimble X7 gets information from the Spot mission system and initiates a scan at pre-defined waypoints autonomously. Alternatively, Spot can also work in an ad-hoc mode in which the user remotely controls it, navigates the robot to the required location and triggers a scan.

The Hensel Phelps team utilised both modes at the DEN terminal. The output point cloud files were automatically transmitted to a tablet and auto-registered, thus verifying that the entire space has been captured, reducing the risk of return visits.

This is an especially important capability on projects such as this where access permits and logistics can cause delays. The captured as-built information was compared to a model of the design to eliminate surprises and delays during construction.

Into the future

The Hensel Phelps team believes that robots will be part of the future workforce, working side by side with humans and performing dull, repetitive, and dangerous tasks.

Jeremy Sibert, the firm’s director of technology, says: “Robots can help improve productivity, quality, and most importantly the safety of our on-site teams. It is an exciting journey and we are looking forward to further integration of autonomous robots in construction workflows.”

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