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The robots are finally coming for you

Mike Murphy
Boston Dynamics's Spot robot.

At some point in the very near future, a dog-like robot, far more nimble and probably faster than you, will be hunting you down.

Presuming, that is, you’ve broken in to a warehouse monitored by a Boston Dynamics Spot robot. The Massachusetts-based robotics firm, previously owned by Google and since bought by SoftBank, will now start offering its Spot robot to companies and researchers.

Boston Dynamics, founded in 1992, previously had been focused on researching the mechanics and AI required to build robots that can handle the unscripted reality of this world. Since the SoftBank acquisition in 2017, the company has attempted to shift its work to actually building ones it could sell. It first hinted in May 2018 that it would be readying initial model of its Spot robot to lease to companies by late 2019, and that time has reportedly come. The Verge reported today (Sept. 24) the first Spot models are ready, and if you have an idea for how to use a robot, you can now get in touch with Boston Dynamics to see if your company would be a fit for its bots.

 

The robot can operate on rocky, unsteady terrain, traveling up to 3 mph, with a battery life of about 90 minutes. It has two ports on its back to attach additional sensors, and it can be used to carry up to 14 kilograms (about 31 pounds) in cargo. Spot can operate somewhat autonomously—Boston Dynamics showed off a video of one patrolling its offices last year—but for more complicated tasks, like opening doors, it may still require a human operator to show it what to do.

While Boston Dynamics’ launch video didn’t really show Spot doing very much that was useful (other than being a very expensive torch and wheelbarrow), it hinted that it could be used in security, construction, and even entertainment. Future uses of Spot could include police bomb disposal, or even dancing with Cirque du Soleil gymnasts, according to the Verge.

There’s no word on how much Spot will cost to rent or buy just yet, but as is the case with all new technologies, it’s likely not going to be cheap. Some Spot models sees the world partially through a Velodyne Lidar sensing system, according to the Verge, and those on their own tend to be multiple thousands of dollars.

Boston Dynamics also released another video of one of its other robots, Atlas, a human-shaped machine that in the last few years has transformed from something that looked like a drunken giant stumbling through existence to a robot that could soon challenge Simone Biles’s routines:

Boston Dynamics aims to find practical uses for all its robots but in reality, the relative damage a Spot robot could do by falling on you (a problem any large robot has to contend with) —compared to Atlas or its Handle cargo robot—seems to show why we’re seeing its smaller robots released on the world first. After all, these robots are still very new, and even after years of research, are only now entering the real world for the first time. They’re going to make mistakes, fall over, and generally have mishaps as they learn to work with us and us them.

 

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