Science & Technology

Boston Dynamics’ robot dogs will soon be released in factories and work sites

Boston Dynamics newest robot, the Spot has recently become available. It is able to complete numerous tasks autonomously as well manually with the help of someone operating it with a controller, but is it as useful as the manufacturers make it out to be?

For decades now, Boston Dynamics has been making robots. Some past products include the Sandflea, which was a small robot designed for reconnaissance, and the Big Dog which was capable of transporting up to 200 pounds. While they have been teasing the public with their wacky robots on YouTube for over ten years now, none of their robots have actually been sold to anybody, until now.

The Spot is a small dog-like robot that resembles the ruthless killer bots from an episode of Black Mirror. While you may be interested in picking one up for yourself to freak out your neighbors or do chores around your home, they are currently only available for lease to businesses. Also worth noting: its high price tag. While Boston Dynamics hasn’t yet released exact pricing on the Spot, it would cost about as much as a luxury car.

Boston Dynamics is quite a large robotics company. When the company was sold by Google to Softbank, the amount wasn’t disclosed, but it is believed to be about $100M USD ($131M CAD). 

If you have heard of Boston Dynamics, it has probably been due to the viral videos posted about their robots. Their channel has amassed millions of views on their YouTube. Finally under Softbank’s management, it appears that we will start meeting them in real life.

The Spot may just seem like a fun little robot dog, but it is quite useful in industrial settings as suggested by its launch video. The Spot is equipped with built-in sensors which are capable of mapping a building, work site, and just about any space. There are also multiple modules that can be attached to the robot including a methane detector for gas leaks, a robotic arm that enables the robot to open doors, and move objects, and a 360-degree camera. The robotic arm has been suggested for use in bomb disposal and enabling the robot to open doors. If the Spot gets popular, expect custom modules made and programmed by third parties.

The quadruped is able to navigate many types of tough terrain which makes it favorable for its intended environments, like outdoor construction sites or elsewhere where the surface is hard but too uneven for wheeled robots. The robot is basically all-terrain as it can walk over stairs, rocks, dirt and just about anything solid that its legs can reach. It does have limitations though and will have trouble with certain terrain through such as water other than shallow puddles, or snow that is too soft that it will sink, or even mud which it could get stuck in. It can withstand a variety of different weather conditions and temperatures from -20 degrees celsius up to 45 degrees celsius. It can handle the rain thanks to its water resistance, but don’t expect it to go swimming.

While the Spot can be programmed to do tasks automatically, like doing routine checks for gas leaks, it can also be controlled manually like an RC car. The intuitive controller has a large screen in the middle for a camera feed, battery indicator, and more. You can even use the controller to make the Spot stand, walk and hop. Though you are controlling the robot manually while using the controller, the robot is still doing most of the work. All you have to do is focus on pointing Spot in the right direction. It uses its sensors to keep itself upright to avoid it from falling over. If the robot does fall over, it is able to self-right on its own most of the time unless under unlikely circumstances.

Despite the Spot being very impressive both technically and physically, it unfortunately won’t be very exciting to watch it race at around only six kilometres-per-hour, which is about the average human walking speed. 

It can run for 90 minutes on a full charge and the battery can be quickly and easily swapped out. Though the actual weight of these batteries hasn’t been disclosed, the Spot promotional video shows a worker changing the battery with ease. 

The Boston Dynamics Spot seems like quite an impressive piece of equipment and will make a lot of people’s jobs easier, such as those working in an industrial setting. Though the Spot is heavily reliant on humans to work effectively, it may automate tasks that could be tedious or potentially dangerous for humans to do. Whether that is exciting or foreshadows a dark future for human employment, I’ll let you decide. 

Let’s just hope they don’t turn on us.

Image Credit: Boston Dynamics

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